Better Eyesight Than Humans – The Advent of Low-Cost LiDAR #CES2015

“You have the information you need.” [to control a self-driving vehicle], said Louay Eldada, CEO and Co-Founder of Quanergy. In the above interview, he explained that his company developed a LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) system that includes lasers and detectors, as well as the associated processing. This allows vehicle manufacturers to easily add 3-dimensional “eyesight” to their existing drive and control systems, without requiring vehicle-to-vehicle communications or integration with external communications’ networks.

To describe LiDAR as adding “eyesight” is an understatement, as it literally can see through fog, and has a resolution to 1 centimeter and can detect objects to 300 meters. This capability is getting the attention of safety officials, as at least one state Department of Transportation agency has had discussions with Quanergy about using LiDAR for detecting moose (moose are difficult to see at night and cause fatalities in most collisions).

At an initial price of $2,500 (two 8-laser sensors at $1000 each and $500 for an Nvidia Tegra K1 based processing unit with artificial intelligence software), it isn’t difficult to imagine this becoming a standard feature in vehicles in a few years, both as an early warning system and as a way to control braking and steering (e.g. all the way to Level 4, full autonomous driving) . As Eldada points out, the LiDAR approach requires less data processing, yet it provides more accurate (e.g. elimination of blind spots) and greater amount of useful information than alternatives, such as video cameras.

LiDAR can detect objects and signage, whether markings on the road (e.g. lane stripes or direction markers) or signs or buildings by the side of the road. As part of its testing process with ProspectSV, the City of San José will be outfitting some vehicles to understand how real-time detection can help it improve its roadways (e.g. detection/location of potholes and other anomalies in the road).

The data that the Quanergy solution provides has the potential to provide real-time mapping, traffic and weather and has many applications in fields such as:

  • warehouse/distribution center/logistics/automation robotics/smart home
  • military vehicles (here is a good reference from the U.S. Army on their progress in this area and how LiDAR will play a key role in making military transport driverless)
  • construction/agriculture/mining vehicles
  • surveying
  • archaeology
  • geology
  • aeronautics/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)
  • security, border protection and disaster relief
The prototype LiDAR on top of a ski rack on a Mercedes.
Today’s LiDAR – By 2018, expect it to be the size of a postage stamp and integrated behind translucent bumpers.

With the introduction of Quanergy’s second generation technology in 2016, the form factor will be reduced to the size of a credit card, it will sell for $250 and it will be 100% solid state (improving reliability, compared to current generation that has mechanically moving components).

By 2018, they are expecting to have a third-generation system in place which will be the size of a postage stamp and will sell for under $100. With that price, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the addition of this type of technology as a mandatory safety feature in new cars.

Speaking of safety, the lasers are Class 1, eye safe, so pedestrians don’t have to worry about losing their eyesight when this type of technology becomes ubiquitous. It is the use of solid state lasers that will make this cost-effective for the common car.

Although Eldada didn’t divulge details of the technology, presumably, it is using the same type of Silicon Photonics technology that is finding its way into data centers as a low-cost, high-speed interconnect device. This sort of approach puts lasers on the types of cost curves associated with semiconductors described so long ago by Gordon Moore.

Regardless of how it is accomplished, Eldada brings credibility to this endeavor as he has founded and sold multiple companies in the optics space. He has over 36 patents in this area and clearly has an understanding of the technology and how to apply it to solve business and human problems.

Ultimately, he sees the technology becoming small enough that it could be integrated into a personal smart device, such as a smart phone. He calls this a “3D Aware Smart Device“. That Samsung is an investor in his company lends credence to this idea.

As he half-jokes, a 3D Aware Smart Device might serve as the alarm clock on one side, while the other side would double as an intrusion detection system. This dream would have seemed far-fetched a few years ago, but now it looks like all the elements are in place for the generation of real-time location metadata that heretofore would have been cost prohibitive to obtain.

[A big thank you to Jonathan Hurd of Altman Vilandrie for his help in filming the above]

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