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driverless lidar system

Cut-price lidar sensor could slash cost of autonomous driving

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Velodyne Lidar, which makes one of the most crucial sensors for driverless cars, has announced a new $500 (£380) lidar array with no moving parts that could drastically lower the cost of bringing automation to vehicles.

The high cost of lidar sensors, which act as the eyes of a self-driving car, has been one of the main technical hurdles to widespread commercialisation of self-driving vehicles.

Earlier units were typically bulky, contained many moving parts and cost well over $10,000. For mass production in passenger vehicles, automakers and their major suppliers seek units that are sleek enough to fit into attractive car designs and cost below $1,000.

The new, cheaper Velarray H800 module combines long-range perception and a broad field of view available on the pricier models in order to ensure safe navigation and collision avoidance. Its compact form factor is designed to fit behind the windshield of a truck, bus or car or can also be mounted on the vehicle exterior.

“Velodyne’s launch of the Velarray H800 lidar sensor, which is the first in a family of solid-state lidars we will be releasing publicly, is important to automakers for three reasons,” said Velodyne Lidar CEO Anand Gopalan.

“First, the Velarray H800 was specifically designed for high-volume automotive applications. Second, Velodyne’s proprietary technology and experience, combined with our manufacturing capacity, allow us to offer the sensor at a price that makes economic sense for automakers. Third, the world needs enhanced safety in consumer vehicles and the Velarray product line makes that available to end consumers creating safer roadways and cars for all.”

However, Velodyne will not be without competition in this new space. Last year, MIT spin-off Draper also announced lidar sensors that have no moving parts that could image distances up 50m, with further range improvements expected shortly.

The Velarray H800 is designed for use in vehicles with autonomy ranging from Level 2, which still requires a human to be hands-on in the vehicle all the time, up to Level 5, where there is no human interaction required whatsoever.

Apple has also ramped up interest in lidar due to its inclusion in the new iPad Pro and iPhone 12 Pro models which use the technology for applications such as augmented reality, in which digital content is overlaid on the real world.

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