Towards Zero Domain Gap: A Comprehensive Study of Realistic LiDAR Simulation for Autonomy Testing

Testing the full autonomy system in simulation is the safest and most scalable way to evaluate autonomous vehicle performance before deployment. This requires simulating sensor inputs such as LiDAR. To be effective, it is essential that the simulation has low domain gap with the real world. That is, the autonomy system in simulation should perform exactly the same way it would in the real world for the same scenario. To date, there has been limited analysis into what aspects of LiDAR phenomena affect autonomy performance. It is also difficult to evaluate the domain gap of existing LiDAR simulators, as they operate on fully synthetic scenes. In this paper, we propose a novel "paired-scenario" approach to evaluating the domain gap of a LiDAR simulator by reconstructing digital twins of real world scenarios. We can then simulate LiDAR in the scene and compare it to the real LiDAR. We leverage this setting to analyze what aspects of LiDAR simulation, such as pulse phenomena, scanning effects, and asset quality, affect the domain gap with respect to the autonomy system, including perception, prediction, and motion planning, and analyze how modifications to the simulated LiDAR influence each part. We identify key aspects that are important to model, such as motion blur, material reflectance, and the accurate geometric reconstruction of traffic participants. This helps provide research directions for improving LiDAR simulation and autonomy robustness to these effects. For more information, please visit the project website:

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