Low-quality lidar will keep self-driving cars in the slow lane

The race to build mass-market autonomous cars is creating big demand for laser sensors that help vehicles map their surroundings

The race to build mass-market autonomous cars is creating big demand for laser sensors that help vehicles map their surroundings. But cheaper versions of the hardware currently used in experimental self-driving vehicles may not deliver the quality of data required for driving at highway speeds.

Most driverless cars make use of lidar sensors, which bounce laser beams off nearby objects to create 3-D maps of their surroundings. Lidar can provide better-quality data than radar and is superior to optical cameras because it is unaffected by variations in ambient light. You’ve probably seen the best-known example of a lidar sensor, produced by market leader Velodyne. It looks like a spinning coffee can perched atop cars developed by the likes of Waymo and Uber.

But not all lidar sensors are created equal. Velodyne, for example, has a range of offerings. Its high-end model is an $80,000 behemoth called HDL-64E—this is the one that looks a lot like a coffee can. It spits 64 laser beams, one atop the other. Each beam is separated by an angle of 0.4° (smaller angles between beams equal higher resolution), with a range of 120 meters. At the other end the firm sells the smaller Puck for $8,000. This sensor uses 16 beams of light, each separated by 2.0°, and has a range of 100 meters. Read More at MIT Technology Review

Lidar is the hot topic of the moment and getting more competitive and contentious. In our review of LASER World of Photonics in Munich last June we rode in a demo van with a Luminar Technologies lidar system. Austin Russell, mentioned the the MIT Technology Review article, explained why by his company's low-cost lidar will succeed: What was new at the LASER trade fair? And in the August issue of LFW, Milton Chang will interview the CTO of Luminar Technologies, Jason Eichenholz.
Image courtesy MIT Technology Review
Image courtesy MIT Technology Review
Image courtesy MIT Technology Review
To read about lasers for the many types of lidar, check this article:
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