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Autonomous Vehicle Sensors Conference & Sensors Expo: Will Tu

Will Tu speaks to AZoSensors about the Autonomous Vehicle Sensors Conference and Sensors Expo & Conference 2018.

Could you start by telling us a bit about the conference?

The original event was based in Chicago and it was a little bit smaller. It had a much more industrial feel, but the industrial market was kind of moving into the IoT (Internet of Things) market and that's where I became involved with them; working with them to develop their IoT market - it's still a very exciting and growing market as well.

As that market had adapted and changed, the organizers said, "Hey, you know what? We also want to expand into autonomous vehicles." I came into the picture with the automotive workshop, because it's a nice fit for both those markets.

The event moved from Chicago to LA, then LA to San Jose. They’d intended to go to San Jose in the first year they wanted to move, but the venue they wanted wasn't available.  They moved to LA and when I went the show floor and the traffic had grown immensely. The desire for the event in California was much higher and I think it actually gave the event the ability to be a much more international show.

It's easier to attract people into the Silicon Valley area or the LA area because there were a lot more company start-ups, and that in itself gave people the reason to go.

In Chicago as I’d said, it had a little more of an industrial feel, even though Chicago is an international destination. It just seemed that people were more willing to come from the Pacific into the California area. Then of course, I still think that we could attract some of the people from Europe, just because of the excitement that the California area gives.

The show has continued to grow each year in terms of exhibitors and attendees, and of course, the timing was really, really good.

It had evolved from this industrial, much more siloed type of area into a much more IoT oriented event covering multiple markets. As well as that, you can see how automotive in the last two years has really gotten exciting in the Silicon Valley area. Automotive was never really viewed as a sexy market for many, many years until this concept of autonomous vehicles came into the picture.

Waymo was doing it for a little bit longer on their own, but nobody really took that much notice. Suddenly though everybody was taking notice and because of the acquisitions of companies like, ArGo and Cruise Automation by GM and Ford, the start-up community suddenly got really excited and started backing a lot newer business ventures.

Image credit: Just Super/Shutterstock

What kind of audience does the conference reach and how many people do you expect to be there?

Last year I know they hit over 6,000 attendees. This year I'm sure they are targeting well over, hopefully for over 7,000 attendees. From my vantage point, most of the attendees come from a good mix of engineering and business backgrounds.

I run a lot of pre-con sessions, and I think the attendee profiling at those would tell you that in R&D and research we probably get about 15-20% of the people from sensor technology developers. Another 15% of the people that are there show levels of interest in sensor solutions, sensor technology.

You also see a lot of titles that are engineering, technology providers, manufacturing, R&D etc. (around 31%) They're also attracting about 18% of their audience based on sales and business development.

What can attendees and exhibitors hope to get out of the conference?

I think everybody wants to get business, don't they? People hope to get business leads, and networking is always one big aspect.

A lot of companies are looking for the opportunity to raise branding and awareness, and that’s what the California venue gives these companies. In the mid-West, there's smaller amount of companies who maintain a certain level of branding and awareness by attending the event, but the breadth and number of companies in California is much higher and that automatically gives them a wider reach alongside the international exposure.

How do you think that the conference contributes to the whole idea of autonomous vehicles and sensors?

One of the key things about autonomous vehicles is the sensors themselves. If it wasn't for the ability to have a 4D imaging radar, LiDAR or camera sensors, the autonomous vehicle would be a blind car. All the sensors give you the ability to see around you and provide what they call contextual awareness of the vehicle to its environment.

It’s just like when people look at their smart phones and things like that, they get all excited about how the smart phone can relate to the user.  These sensors are very attuned to detecting how the user is interfacing with the phone and in the same way here; the vehicle sensors are trying to develop that 3D map around the vehicle, so the vehicle can see and know how to navigate its environment.

Sensors are critical for that. In fact, one of the really interesting things this year is the breadth of LiDAR companies that are really coming to the forefront. LiDAR is a laser sensor that uses what they call "time of flight," capabilities, so you send the beam of light out and it bounces off the object and it comes back to you.

LiDAR sends out an array of lasers beams, and these are collected to make an image. That image is called that a "point cloud" and those point clouds then begin to process information the same way a camera image would. You can think of it as a frame and then you do that lots of times - there's a lot of data processing involved.

Globally there are about 135 LiDAR companies. In Silicon Valley specifically there's probably 50 of them at least.  Those companies may be very excited about an autonomous vehicle and that might be one of their primary markets, but vehicle sensors are good for a lot of other things too, like industrial robots so it's very multi-market approach.

That said though, everybody's trying to focus on the autonomous vehicle sector because of the appeal in the industry right now and the amount of visibility you get when you say, "Hey, I'm working toward an autonomous vehicle." It gets easier to get the venture capital funding, and it also gets a lot more set customers that are looking at your technology right away.

The sensors are the key part of the conference., that's why Sensor Expo is at such an attractive venue and is covering such advanced sensor technology. Whether they're image processing or from cameras or from LiDARS or even 4D imaging, all these things share the same approach – image processing. You are just using different types of sensors to capture the data.

Approximately, how many attendees come from the kind of Silicon Valley area and how many are global?

The top ten countries that we have representation from are: South Korea, Japan, China, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Taiwan, Germany, India, and Austria. It really gives you a feel of the company by looking at the countries that are coming to the event.

In terms of domestic attendance statistics, California is number one, but we have Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, Arizona, New York, Pennsylvania, Minneapolis, Michigan (because of the automotive sensors starting to creep in there) and Ohio

Sensors have never been viewed as the "sexy thing" until the last five or six years, certainly since I’ve been working with them. Now there’s huge growth in the market that we’ve seen in the show too.

For example, the smart phone itself has a lot of sensors and that’s where most of these sensor manufacturers have really come into play – you have the gyro, the magnetometer, the microphones, even the touchscreen is a sensor of sorts.

Now with autonomous vehicles we have the radar, the LiDAR and the camera, the ultrasonics etc., so all those sensor elements are the eyes, ears, all the senses that the human has. All those types of things are senses that we use every day, and now machines need to have those same senses too.

What do you think the sensors market is going to look like in the future? How is it going to change and are there any trends coming up?

I think the trending question as always is "Can you make things cheaper?"

First it starts out with the proof of concept aspect. Can we make LiDAR? Can we make a 4D imaging radar? So those proof of concepts are the technological validation. People and exhibitors come to showcase that they’ve made this technology, that they can prove that they can develop it, and that it can take the measurements that you need it to, can sense the environment around you. That's why people will come to speak, come to exhibit and come to showcase the technology itself.

Then the second phase after they prove that it's a viable technology, is to start to drive the cost down. It’s at that point that there will be a lot more competition and people will be looking at the cost point of all these different sensors.

For the sensor to get adopted, it's got to hit these price points. Not only will it have to be technically capable, but it has to hit that price point that's needed as well. That's what enabled sensors to go into cell phones, for example.

Look at a cell phone; at one point the product was maybe a couple of hundred dollars and now they are soaring up to $600.00 because of the advanced technology they have put into them. People value it and they want more of it so, I think even though it still needs to be very affordable, they've jammed in a lot more technology so it's gotten more expensive.

Cars are going to go the same way. you are going to see now is that car manufacturers are putting anywhere from four to twelve, maybe more, radars into the vehicle. They are probably going to put one to maybe eight LiDARs in too. They're also going to have eight or more cameras on a vehicle. The cost of all this extra technology is going to add up.

The cost point of those LiDARs or radars or cameras are all varied and that strategy changes from manufacturer to manufacturer. Cost is very important though, and that cost point has to come down eventually.

Finally, what can we expect to see at the conference this year?

I think you are going to see a lot more LiDAR developers. At the automotive workshop, we're going to actually have a LiDAR face off. I'm going to have four LiDAR companies coming to talk about what makes their LiDAR technology unique compared to everybody else.

We have a company like Blackmore, we have Ouster, we have a company called AI and a company called Phantom Intelligence. Those four companies are all LiDAR manufacturers and they are all going to get 15 minutes to wow you and woo you with their technology’s advantages.

You're also going to see other sensor technologies that people are going to find new uses or new applications for. Even though I said, "Hey a LiDAR camera and radar are useful for autonomous vehicles," people are going to find use cases that are very similar with robotics. So industrial robots, delivery robots, all these types of technologies are going to find adjacent markets - even medical -  we have medical robots out there. The Da Vinci machine is just one example that uses different types of sensors to allow a physician to have a smaller invasive footprint into the human body as they perform surgery.

All those adjacent markets are going to be explored as well as the automotive market. I think the key trend is, obviously, getting to see how many new applications or proof points are going to be talked about and shared at the event. Speakers are going to talk about all the different applications that you can use different sensors for.

About Willard Tu

As the Senior Director of the Automotive Business Unit in Xilinx, Will Tu works closely with semiconductors, as well as automotive and computing industries. He is also the Conference Chair for the Autonomous Vehicle Sensors Conference. Will has a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan and a MBA from the University of Phoenix.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Zoe Peterkin

Written by

Zoe Peterkin

Upon graduating from the University of Exeter with a BSc Hons. in Zoology, Zoe worked for a market research company, specialising in project management and data analysis. After a three month career break spent in Australia and New Zealand, she decided to head back to her scientific roots with AZoNetwork. Outside of work, Zoe enjoys going to concerts and festivals as well as trying to fit in as much travelling as possible!


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