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Title:
SENSOR ASSEMBLY FOR VEHICLES
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/152540
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A sensor assembly includes a first body that rotates a sensor component about an axis, and a second body coupled to the first body to form a separation gap. The separation gap extends radially inward from a gap inlet to a sealed barrier of the second body. The separation gap may be configured with a set of air guide structural features, to induce formation of eddies from air intake received through the gap inlet, as air from the air intake moves inward towards the sealed barrier.

Inventors:
RATNER, Daniel (1455 Market St, 4th FloorSan Francisco, California, 94103, US)
Application Number:
US2019/015882
Publication Date:
August 08, 2019
Filing Date:
January 30, 2019
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
UBER TECHNOLOGIES, INC. (1455 Market St, 4th FloorSan Francisco, California, 94103, US)
International Classes:
F03D9/32; B06B3/00; G01S3/00; G01S7/00
Foreign References:
US20160282468A12016-09-29
CN106313078A2017-01-11
JP2008104254A2008-05-01
CA3027331A12017-02-23
US20150091374A12015-04-02
CN207908673U2018-09-25
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MAHAMEDI, Zurvan (Mahamedi IP Law LLP, 910 Campisi Way Suite 1, Campbell California, 95008, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:

1. A sensor assembly comprising:

a first body to retain a sensor component, the first body being rotatable about an axis;

a second body coupled to the first body to form a separation gap that extends radially inward from a gap inlet to a sealed barrier point of the second body; and

a set of air guide structural features provided within the separation gap to induce formation of eddies from air intake received through the gap inlet, as air from the air intake moves inward towards the sealed barrier.

2. The sensor assembly of claim 1, wherein the set of air guide structural features form one or more channels that extend to at least partially circumvent a portion of the sensor assembly, the one or more channels including at least an entry channel that is aligned to intersect an incoming airflow from the gap inlet.

3. The sensor assembly of claim 2, wherein the set of air guide structural features form multiple channels that are radially offset from one another.

4. The sensor assembly of claim 3, wherein each of the multiple channels includes a vertical wall that forms an outlet passage for the channel, the outlet channel of each of the multiple channels allowing for air from the air intake to move radially inward.

5. The sensor assembly of claim 4, wherein an interior channel is stepped up in height with respect to an outer channel, so that air from the air intake moves upward and radially inward.

6. The sensor assembly of claim 1, wherein the second body forms a base on which the first body revolves.

7. The sensor assembly of claim 1, wherein the separation gap includes an entry channel that maintains eddies from air intake received through the first gap inlet.

8. The sensor assembly of claim 7, wherein the entry channel includes a vertical wall structure that adjoins an interior channel, with a channel outlet joining the entry channel and the interior channel.

9. The sensor assembly of claim 7, wherein the vertical wall structure extends from a ceiling of the separation gap.

10. The sensor assembly of claim 1, wherein the separation gap includes a floor that elevates towards the sealed barrier.

11. The sensor assembly of claim 10, wherein the floor elevates using one or more step structures.

12. The sensor assembly of claim 1, wherein the separation gap includes a ceiling that is formed by the first body, and a floor that is formed by the second body.

13. The sensor assembly of claim 12, wherein the set of air guide structural features include a first structure that extends from the ceiling to form at least a portion of a first channel, the first channel maintaining eddies from air intake received through the first gap inlet.

14. The sensor assembly of claim 13, wherein the set of air guide structural features include one or more step structures formed on the floor of the separation gap.

15. The sensor assembly of claim 1, wherein the first body rotates at a speed that exceeds 100 revolutions per minute, while retaining a signal emitter as the sensor component.

16. The sensor assembly of claim 15, wherein the sensor assembly is a light detection and ranging sensor, and the signal emitter emits a beam of light.

Description:
SENSOR ASSEMBLY FOR VEHICLES

RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application claim the benefit of U.S. Patent Application No. 15/885,308, filed January 31, 2018; and the aforementioned application is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety.

TECHNICAL FIELD

[0002] Examples described herein relate to sensor assemblies for use with vehicles.

BACKGROUND

[0003] External sensor assemblies can be used with autonomous vehicles in order to sense surrounding and nearby regions. Some types of sensor assemblies rotate signal emitters to sense regions across a wide sensing angle. For example, light detection and ranging sensors (often referred to as“LiDAR”) typically use a rotating head to span signal emission across regions in front of and around a vehicle.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0004] FIG. 1 is a side view of an example sensor assembly for external use with an autonomous vehicle.

[0005] FIG. 2A is a cross-sectional view of a sensor along lines A- A of FIG. 1, according to one or more examples.

[0006] FIG. 2B is a close-up of section B-B of a sensor assembly of FIG. 2A, according to one or more examples.

[0007] FIG. 2C is a cross-sectional view of a sensor assembly along lines C-C of FIG. 1, according to one or more examples.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0008] According to examples, a sensor assembly includes a first body that rotates a sensor component about an axis, and a second body coupled to the first body to form a separation gap. The separation gap extends radially inward from a gap inlet to a sealed barrier of the second body. The separation gap may be configured with a set of air guide structural features, to induce formation of eddies from air intake received through the gap inlet, as air from the air intake moves inward towards the sealed barrier. [0009] With respect to some examples as described, the eddies that are induced by air guide structures can include, for example, swirling of the airflow within channels formed by the bodies of the sensor assembly. The airflow can thus circulate, with the momentum of the airflow being directionally varied so as to counter the initial momentum of the airflow when it is received in the channels of the separation gap.

[0010] In some examples, the sensor assembly includes a set of air guide structural features that form one or more channels that circumvent at least a portion of the sensor assembly. The one or more channels include at least an entry channel that is aligned to intersect an incoming airflow from the gap inlet.

[0011] As an addition or variation, multiple channels may circumvent a portion of the sensor assembly, with the channels being radially offset from one another. The channels may combine to induce eddies from airflow that is received through the gap inlet. When the sensor assembly is in operation, the eddies may serve to reduce the momentum and energy of the airflow as air travels radially inward towards an interior sealed barrier.

[0012] Systems, apparatus, and methods are described below in the context of external sensor units for autonomous vehicles. However, it will be appreciated that the embodiments are not limited to such context. For instance, example embodiments include partially or fully internal sensors for vehicles.

[0013] FIG. 1 is a side view of an example sensor assembly for external use with a vehicle. In particular, a sensor assembly 100 includes a first body, shown as a head structure 110 and a second body, shown as a base structure 120. In operation, the head structure 110 revolves on the base structure 120 about an axis of rotation (shown as axis Z). The base structure 120 includes a bottom segment 124 that mounts to an external surface (e.g., roof) of the vehicle. In examples, the sensor assembly 100 can be implemented as part of an autonomous control system for operating the vehicle.

[0014] The head structure 110 can house a sensor component, such as a signal emitter (e.g., light emitter, as part of a LiDar assembly). To extend the field of view of the sensor component, the head structure 110 can rotate about the rotational axis Z, while supported on a top portion 222 (see FIG. 2) of the base structure 120. In some examples, the head structure 110 can rotate at several revolutions per minute or more (e.g., 100 to 1000 RPMs). Still further, in other variations, the sensor assembly 100 may include multiple rotating bodies which rotate independent of one another.

[0015] A separation gap 115 may define the interface between the rotatable head structure 110 and the fixed based structure 120. The separation gap 115 may extend from an exterior of the sensor assembly 100, radially inward towards a sealed barrier 118. The sealed barrier 118 can serve to block moisture and debris from affecting internal components which may reside within the base structure 120.

[0016] Examples recognize that in a deployed environment, the separation gap 115 between the head structure 110 and the base structure 120 is a source of moisture and/or debris accumulation as a result of air intake from the environment. For example, in one implementation, the sensor assembly 100 may operate on top of, or outside of a vehicle that moves at a relatively high speed (e.g., 40-60 MPH), and sometimes in conditions where there is wind or rain. Moreover, examples recognize that the operational parameters under which the sensor assembly 100 can operate under may promote air inflow and moisture accumulation. For example, the head structure 110 may operate at high revolution rates (e.g., 100 to 1000 RPMs) which can cause, for example, moisture and water to separate from the airflow, and force movement of water and debris inward towards the sealed barrier 118. Examples recognize that the accumulation of moisture and debris over time, resulting from operating and environmental conditions of the sensor assembly 100, can burden the sealed barrier 118 and promote deterioration of the sealed barrier 118 over time.

[0017] As shown by FIG. 1, the sensor assembly 100 can configure the head structure 110 and/or the base structure 120 to include structural features that line a surface of the separation gap 115, where the structural features are shaped and positioned to induce eddies from air intake at a gap inlet 125. By forming eddies 121 from air intake 123, the separation gap 115 is able to reduce the momentum of the air intake 123, causing air, moisture and/or debris that travel radially inward within the separation gap 115 to lose momentum and energy. As a result, less air from the air intake reaches the interior of the separation gap 115, resulting in less moisture and/or debris accumulating on the sealed barrier 118.

[0018] FIG. 2A is a cross-sectional view of FIG. 1 along lines A-A, according to one or more examples. In an example of FIG. 2A, the head structure 110 includes a sensor component, such as a signal emitter 210. The head structure 110 may retain and position the signal emitter 210 at numerous positions along an arc defined by the Z axis. In some examples, the signal emitter 210 can spin or revolve several times a minute, or faster (e.g., 100-1000 times per minute). By way of example, the sensor assembly 100 may correspond to a LiDAR sensor, and the signal emitter 210 may correspond to a light emitter. The signal emitter 210 may be seated within the head structure 110, such that the signal emitter 210 can be pivoted (e.g., with respect to X and Y axis) at the same time the head structure 110 swivels, spins or otherwise rotates with respect to Z-axis.

[0019] The operation of the signal emitter 210 may be in conjunction with operation of, for example, an autonomous vehicle. In such context, the head structure 110 may rotate about the Z-axis while airflow is directed onto the surface of the sensor assembly 100 along a direction of travel of the vehicle (as shown by the X axis). In operation, the signal emitter 210 may emit signals (e.g., pulses of light) and use sensors to detect reflection or return of the signals. The detected signal return of the emitted signals can be captured and used to generate for example, (i) range information indicating a depth of a surface which reflected the signal, and/or (ii) an image of a region near the vehicle (e.g., several car lengths in front of the vehicle).

[0020] In one implementation, the head structure 110 may be connected to a shaft 220, which extends to a base section 230. The shaft 220 may be connected to the head structure 110, to rotate the head structure 110 while the base structure 120 remains fixed. The shaft 220, or portion thereof, may rotate the head structure 110 using a motor (not shown).

[0021] The base structure 120 provides a base on which the head structure 110 rotates. In an example, the head structure 110 includes a perimeter section 212 which circumvents a top portion 222 of the base structure 120. The top portion 222 may have a greater dimension than, for example, a midsection 224 and base section 230 of the base structure 120. The perimeter section 212 of the head structure 210 can form the gap inlet 125 with the top segment 222 of the base structure 120. In this way, the gap inlet 125 can be oriented downward towards the base section 230.

[0022] When the head structure 110 is rotating, the perimeter section 212 rotates about the top segment 222, with the gap inlet 125 being a circuitous (e.g., elliptical or circular) formation at an interface of the head structure 110 and the base structure 120. The perimeter section 212 of the head structure 110 may be dimensioned relative to the top segment 222 of the base structure 120, such that the gap inlet 125 is oriented to face the base section 230. The separation gap 115 may extend radially inward from the gap inlet 125 to the sealed barrier 118. The sealed barrier 118 may block moisture and debris that enters through the separation gap 115 from reaching and harming sensitive internal components of the sensor assembly 100. By way of example, the base structure 120 may include one or more interior sections 228 which retain the sensitive electrical

components. [0023] According to some examples, the separation gap 115 may be provided with air guide structural features that define the spacing between the head structure 110 and the base structure 120. The air guide structural features serve to reduce the momentum and energy of the airflow that is received through the gap inlet 125. In some examples, the air guide structural features of the separation gap 115 induce eddies from the airflow that is received through the gap inlet 125. As an addition or variation, the separation gap 115 may include obstructions and/or barriers which further reduce the momentum and energy of the incoming airflow. As described with various examples, the reduction of momentum and energy in the airflow also reduces the amount of moisture and debris that accumulates on or near the sealed barrier 118. As a result, the sealed barrier 118 is better protected over time, given environmental and operating conditions which the sensor assembly 100 is subject to with operation of the respective autonomous vehicle.

[0024] In some examples, the head structure 110 provides a ceiling 214 for the separation gap 115, and the base structure 120 provides a floor 224 for the separation gap 115. The air guide structural features of the separation gap 115 can be unitarily formed or otherwise integrated with the respective surfaces of the head structure 110 and the base structure 120 which form the respective ceiling 234 and the floor 224. By way of example, the air geode structural features provided with the separation gap 115 can include walls, steps, corners, crevices, and/or recesses that are unitarily formed, or otherwise integrated with the ceiling 234 and/or the floor 224 of the separation gap 115.

[0025] FIG. 2B illustrates a close-up of section B-B of FIG. 2 A. As shown by an example of FIG. 2B, the gap inlet 125 may be formed by the perimeter section 212 and a perimeter of the top segment 222. In an example shown, the separation gap 115 may include an entry channel 260 that is defined in part by the ceiling 234 and a ceiling wall 264 extending downward from the ceiling 234 towards the floor 244. The entry channel 260 can include an outlet passage 268 that extends into an intermediate channel 270, formed in part by an intermediate wall 274 that forms an intermediate outlet passage 278 and another channel 280.

[0026] In some examples, the floor 244 of the separation gap 115 includes one or multiple step structures 282 which elevate the separation gap 115 while disrupting airflow that is directed inward towards the sealed barrier 118. Each step structure 282 can be unitarily formed from a surface of the base structure 120, which forms the floor 224 of the separation gap 115. [0027] In examples, the entry channel 260 is shaped to induce eddies from airflow that is received through the gap inlet 125. The entry channel 260 can be shaped to induce eddies from a significant portion of the incoming airglow. The entry channel 260 may receive the incoming airflow via the gap inlet 125, such that air from the incoming airflow circulates within the entry channel 260 before the air encounters the outlet passage 268.

In this way, the eddies that are induced from the incoming airflow are retained for a duration of time before their air is circulated through the outlet passage 268.

[0028] The ceiling wall 264 can dimension the outlet passage 268 to be a fraction (e.g., 10-30%) of a height of the entry channel 268. Additionally, the entry channel 260 can be oriented so that it is aligned with a direction of initial airflow received through the gap inlet 125. In this way, the incoming airflow is disrupted, and circulated within the entry channel 260 before portions are passed through the outlet channel 268.

[0029] In similar fashion, the intermediate channel 270 can utilize the intermediate wall 274 and the stepped structure 282 to further diminish the momentum and energy of the incoming airflow. Thus, as portions of the incoming airflow progresses inward, additional eddies may form in the intermediate channel 270, further diminishing the momentum and energy of the airflow.

[0030] As shown by examples of FIG. 2A and FIG. 2B, successive channels 260. 270 may be positioned to induce and capture eddies from incoming airflow. Other structures, such as step structures 282, may also be used to elevate and/or disrupt airflow. As the sensor assembly 100 is subjected to heavy use in various environmental conditions, the configuration and arrangement of airflow structural features, such as provided by channels 260, 270 and step structures 282, serve to reduce the momentum and energy of the airflow that reaches the sealed barrier 118. As a result, less moisture and debris is accumulated at the sealed barrier 118, so as to promote longevity of the sealed barrier 118 and protect components retained within the interior sections 228.

[0031] FIG. 2C is a cross-sectional view of the sensor assembly 100 along lines C-C of FIG. 2A. As described with examples of FIG. 2A and FIG. 2B, the separation gap 115 can be formed by air guide structural features which combine to form multiple channels 260, 270, 280 that are displaced radially with respect to one another, with each channel circumventing respective portions of the base structure 120. The multiple channels 260, 270, 280 may be interconnected by respective outlet passages 268, 278, with the outlet passage 288 extending to the sealed barrier 118. When the sensor assembly 100 is in operation, the airflow may be received through the inlet gap 125. With movement of the vehicle and rotational motion of the head structure 110, the airflow may move radially inward from the inlet gap 125 towards the sealed barrier 118, with the respective channels 260. 270, 280 inducing and retaining eddies from the received airflow received through the inlet gap 125. As eddies are formed in the entry channel 260, the incoming airflow loses energy and momentum, and portions of the incoming airflow pass through the outlet channel 268, where the air is received next in the intermediate chamber 270. In an example, eddies are formed in the intermediate channel 270 before portions of the air pass through the outlet passage 278 and into the next channel 280, after which additional air may pass through the outlet passage 288 before reaching the sealed barrier 118.

[0032] Although examples are described in detail herein with reference to the accompanying drawings, it is to be understood that the concepts are not limited to those precise examples. Accordingly, it is intended that the scope of the concepts be defined by the following claims and their equivalents. Furthermore, it is contemplated that a particular feature described either individually or as part of an example can be combined with other individually described features, or parts of other examples, even if the other features and examples make no mentioned of the particular feature. Thus, the absence of describing combinations should not preclude having rights to such combinations.