April 06, 2018

Driving the cutthroat autonomous vehicle market forward: solid-state lidar systems

Driving the cutthroat autonomous vehicle market forward: solid-state lidar systems

Lidar stands for light detection and ranging, and works like radar but uses pulsed infrared light from a laser to measure variable distances to a target. The first applications of lidar were for meteorology and aerospace, but today it’s used across a wide swath of industries—and is quickly becoming an enabling feature for the autonomous vehicles market. In fact, according to Wired, lidar is “perhaps the most important piece of hardware in the race to unlock self-driving cars for everybody.”

Though self-driving cars rely on a host of different optical tools to see the road including cameras and radars, lidar is considered superior because of its ability to create 3D images so precise it’s been called the “next-best thing to the human eye.” Nearly every major player in the autonomous vehicles market is incorporating lidar into its vehicles.

Solid-state lidar solves industry challenges

To date, the two main challenges of incorporating lidar systems into self-driving cars were that: 1) the systems were not durable due to moving parts and 2) they were expensive. But recent developments are allowing prices for lidar systems to drop significantly. Specifically, new, solid-state lidar systems with no moving parts are helping to drive toward an anticipated 18.5 percent lidar market growth by 2025. And that projected growth is spurring heavy competition, which is also helping to drive prices down.

Fierce rivalry in the industry

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), sensor technology company LeddarTech showcased what it calls “the world’s first lidar integrated circuit (IC) to enable high-volume deployment of solid-state 3D lidars”—and the technology was twice named a CES 2018 Innovation Award Honoree. And Innoviz announced InnovizOne, an automotive-grade, low-cost lidar coming in 2019, and unveiled InnovizPro, a standalone, solid-state, MEMS-based scanning lidar system. Automotive lidar pioneer Velodyne showed off several new models, including one that costs $4,000—which is a significant price cut from an early system that cost $75,000. And Quanergy is shifting to a “high-volume production phase” to mass-produce solid-state 3D lidar at an automated factory in California. According to Forbes, “Quanergy estimates its solid-state sensors currently cost as little as $250 for bulk purchases.” These are several steps in the right direction in an industry eagerly awaiting the arrival of mainstream, $100 lidar.

Virtual prototyping gets lidar systems to market faster

With cutthroat competition in the lidar industry, companies can’t afford to have product development delays. Companies can bridge the idea to production gap with Zemax Virtual Prototyping, the only solution to create a working virtual prototype of the entire lidar system, not just the optical or mechanical components alone. This reduces design iterations and accelerates design validation. We’ve seen customers beat their development schedules by as many as three months—saving development time and costs.

And in the race for autonomous vehicle market share—a potential $7 trillion “passenger economy” by 2050 according to Intel—every second of the development cycle counts.


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