Why Solid-State Lidar Is Key to the Future of Self-Driving Cars

We’ve already talked about why Lidar is one of the most critical sensors in most autonomous vehicles today in the first part of this series.

However, new Lidar technology is constantly emerging, promising to make self-driving cars better — at a fraction of how much it costs now.

Compared to electromechanical Lidars which has massive spinning parts, solid-state Lidar has no moving parts. It’s also smaller, lighter and more compact while providing an array of notable benefits.

Ready to read all about it?

How Does Lidar Become Solid-State?

Louay Eldada and his team at Quanergy — one of the leading players in solid-state Lidar -think the answer can be found by using an optical-phased array to scan the environment.

This is a technique which has been used in radar since the 1950s and involves broadcasting radio waves in any direction — without spinning in circles.

Eldada and his team figured out a way to apply the same method to “steer” light using silicon — and eliminate the need for moving mirrors or lens.

If you are interested in learning more technical details, check out the video below in which Quanergy explains the technology behind the S3 solid state LiDAR sensor and how it works.

This is not the only method which has been tested to develop solid-state devices for deployment in automated driving systems.

Engineers in the industry have also devised something called Flash Lidar. This operates much like 2D digital cameras. However, it comes with the additional capability of creating 3D images by determining a pixel’s depth based on measuring the intensity of light from a flash.

What’s most exciting about solid-state Lidar, though, is its promise to lead us into a future where there can be a self-driving car in every driveway.

So that is what we will focus on next.

Solid-State Lidar Promises to Give Self-Driving Cars Sharper Vision

By firing off millions of beams of light from its lasers per second, the measurements and data from a Lidar sensor are already incredibly detailed. (Click here if you missed the first part of this series where I explained the basics of how Lidar works)

So how is solid-state Lidar better? How does it help cars observe even more of their environment?

  • Increased precision through long-range detection, better classification of objects (such as pedestrians and vehicles) and improved tracking of movement (for instance, how fast a pedestrian is moving and in which direction).
  • Solid-state Lidar can provide increased range and resolution required for high-speed driving. Looking forward, it should be able to discern a butterfly from a small car component flying off a vehicle in front of it.
  • Solid-state Lidar can provide accurate 3D imaging in any weather. According to Frank Jourdan, President, Chassis & Safety Div., Continental Contitech AG,this technology will help enable a significantly more detailed and accurate field of vision around the entire vehicle, independent of day or night time and robust in adverse weather conditions”.
  • Because it has no moving parts, a solid-state device is immune to shock and vibration and thus less prone to motion blur.

Can Run Longer Without Having to Be Replaced

An electromechanical Lidar can assist self-driving cars for 1,000 to 2,000 hours before failure- which is not ideal considering we might have to replace it about once every three years (or more frequently, depending on how much you use it).

On the other hand, a solid-state device with low power consumption could run without failure up to 100x longer, as it has a lifespan of up to 100,000 hours. In other words, it’s likely to outlive your car, making it more durable and more reliable.

What’s more, it’s meant to do all that for a lot less money than today’s Lidars.

Paving the Way Towards Autonomous Cars We Can Actually Afford

Much of the technology needed to mass-produce autonomous vehicles exists — the biggest challenge is to make it affordable. Cost is one of the most significant barriers need to overcome to build a future with self-driving cars for all.

Velodyne’s HDL-64E Lidar sensor, for instance, a popular model among many of today’s cars testing self-driving tech, costs a whopping $75,000. This makes it more expensive than the car it sits atop of.

Even the company’s cheapest 16-laser Lidar model goes for $4,000 a piece.

However, by avoiding the high cost of spinning mirrors, solid-state Lidar can make room for more affordable options soon. Take Quanergy’s $900 solid-state Lidar sensor, for example.

Or Velodyne’s new Velarray LiDAR, another solid-state Lidar which has a target price in the hundreds of dollars and is scheduled to go into production this year.

What’s more, several other startups are working on next-gen solid-state Lidars which could soon be as cheap as $100 each.

Stay on Top of What’s Next!

This is an exciting time for everyone passionate about technology and autonomous vehicles. The self-driving car industry is a field where change and innovation are always just around the corner.

Of course, all changes take time and for now, spinning Lidars are still the ones you’re likely to notice atop of test self-driving vehicles. But, as you can see, significant technological advances are taking place.

To stay up-to-date with the most important ones, don’t forget to follow me on Medium and Twitter.

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