To lower the financial basis of producing LIDARs, Baidu together with Ford invested USD 150 million in the active development of this technology. Baidu is the Chinese company that is also engaged in the self-driving cars development in their region and wishes to run in-line with the market’s latest trends.
LIDAR is the Light, Detection, and Ranging technology that must soon shift the world to a new era of self-driving autonomous cars. They are produced by Velodyne company that operates since 2005 and its over-a-decade experience has been largely adopted by Ford in the entire production history of the driverless vehicles of this manufacturer.
LIDAR will make driving a car without the operator’s involving a reality. LIDAR sensors emanate laser beams that estimate the environment and scan it with the frequency and depth that allows seeing what is around. They are believed to be the necessary option of hardware installed on the body of a vehicle to drive safely in the future. They can ‘see’ even through the thin layer of the show on the road in winter and thus, make a car be aware of road marks.
Tesla company is the only big exception to rules that says LIDARs aren’t necessary for the self-driving vehicles. They currently rely on radio sonic waves, optical cameras, and radars to drive a car. But the only major drawback with this set without a LIDAR is that it can’t see through the snow on the surface of the road.
Snow, however, is the biggest issue along with the heavy rain and the dense fog on the road. LIDAR is not perfection in these conditions either as its beams emanated into the environment, reflect from the surface of raindrops, snowflakes, and mist of fog and make the hiss on the screen of a car using LIDAR. These hisses prevent a car from seeing the world around normal enough, which contributes to the impossibility to continue a car driving itself in such weather conditions.
Currently, this issue is in the middle of solution process by the software makers and while it is solved fully or at least will give the significant percent of successful driving that could be called ‘safe’, the self-driving technology will leap onto another level at once.
The other issue is the cost of LIDAR sensor. A decade ago, it’s every piece had cost from 80 to 100 thousand dollars and it was quite a big thing. Years later, as the technology advanced, it transformed into the size of 2 hockey pucks and with the cost only USD 8,000. However, to become really attractive from the point of view of mass production, the cost shall fall dramatically, to some hundred dollars, a few maybe.
There is a company, Quanergy Systems, located in the Silicon Valley, which head in charge said that they were working on the technology that would allow a market to see the LIDAR devices for only USD 250. However, they will not be able to cover the entire 360°-range, thus, at least 4 pieces will be required to be installed on one car. This is too above average as USD 1000 only for environment-scanning devices is tangible enough when the self-driving car must be as cheap as possible to meet the expectations of the most part of potential users, in addition to safety as foremost.