Autonomous Vehicle’s (AVs) have become the synonyms for future mobility and it's possible that they will be seen on every corner of the road in the distant future. Around the US, as per estimates by the Department of Transportation in 2019 more than 1,400 AVs are being tested across 36 states by more than 80 companies.1 It has been majorly possible due to LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, which was previously used for aerial and agricultural mapping of terrain. Around the world many start-ups and collaboration between suppliers and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are spurring up for the development of these technologies for AVs.
LiDAR Technologies Background
Figure 1: Showing the Classification of LiDAR Technologies (Source: MEMS Mirrors for LiDAR: A Review*).
LiDAR has been present since the mid-1900s, but its importance in the field of AVs became known in the early 2000, when the Stanford University’s racing team collaborated with the Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory to create Stanley (an autonomous vehicle using a roof mounted SICK AG LiDAR) and it won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge (sponsored by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency for driverless race cars).2 The vehicle featured 5 SICK LiDAR sensors that were mounted on the roof and additionally military grade GPS system, gyroscopes, accelerometers, and a front facing camera adorned the vehicle. The SICK LiDAR created only 2D representation of the surrounding environment as it sent few beams of light in one direction, thus it required additional technologies to compete in the challenge.
The major breakthrough for advancement of LiDAR technology came with the company Velodyne LiDAR (previously known as Velodyne Acoustics), based in Silicon Valley, when they participated in the 2005 DARPA challenge. Their experience in the race made them realize the shortcomings in the LiDAR and camera-based technologies. The company founder started developing new LiDAR technologies for the 2007 race. It was the founder David Halls patented 3D laser based real-time system that revolutionized and created a base for the modern LiDAR technology that are used in AVs. In the 2007 DARPA challenge five teams out of the six used their perception system, which provided 360 degrees 3D representation with the help of 64 embedded lasers. The modern-day Velodyne LiDAR can send millions of pulses/ second to create a 3D cloud point i.e., a 3D representation of the real world for AVs to map their surroundings, also they have a range coverage of around 300metres.
Market for Automotive LiDAR technologies
The global market for LiDAR has been estimated at $289.3mn in 2019 and has been projected to increase with a Calculated Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 26.55% annually.4 The major market being the Asia Pacific (APAC) Region and is expected to gain amass a market size of around approximately $14,754mn by 2030. The investment has seen a drastic increase since 2016, which has been pegged at $1bn.3 Most of the investment has been in Micro-electromechanical Systems (MEMS) LiDAR (quasi-solid-state LiDAR) technology and second highest bidding has been for optical phased arrays.
Figure 2: Showing the LiDAR Market Forecast (Source: LiDAR for Automotive and Industrial Applications*).
Future of LiDAR Autonomous Vehicles
The major issues companies are facing with LiDAR is the low range, low resolution and high cost and for which the solutions are being worked upon by many suppliers, OEMs and start-ups. The 64-laser high range Velodyne LiDAR costs around $75K each and is being used by high profile OEMs for the development of future AVs. There are a few start-ups that are working on developing low cost and high range LiDAR for the future of AVs. Aeva, a company started by ex-employees of Apple have developed LiDAR with no moving parts that may cost less than $500.5 The start-up says that their parts would be used on Audi e-tron and VW I.D. Buzz. Another company that announced a low-cost LiDAR is Luminar, which plans to sell it for less than $1000.5 In the coming future LiDAR cost is expected to fall with the mass adoption of this technology and it is expected to become a norm in all the future EVs, thus the realization of the dream of AVs on every corner of the road would soon become a reality.