The infamous lawsuit of Google against Uber and Levandowski has been the talk of the town for every technology enthusiast. The lawsuit centers around the LiDAR technology that helps cars understand their surroundings. Giving a ‘big picture’ view to the cars, LiDAR is the major sensor disrupting the automotive industry. Usually viewed as a spinning cylinder, sitting on the rooftop of a car, LiDAR systems are at the core of the success of self-driving cars. A battle between two giants for LiDAR technology, you say!? That’s how important the technology is and that is where our story begins!
LiDAR or Light imaging, detection, and ranging system, has always been synonymous with automotive technology. The escalating demand for driverless cars is providing the automobile industry with ample opportunities to embed LiDAR in their systems. Massive investments from venture capitalists and the flurry of partnerships and acquisitions happening in the LiDAR domain hints on the size of this burgeoning market. A study by Markets and Markets claims that the LiDAR market is going to hit 5,204.8 Million USD and will grow at a CAGR of 25.8% from 2017 to 2022. However, analysts at Technavio generously predict that the global automotive LiDAR sensors market will see a CAGR of more than 34% by 2020. Attributed to the rising demand for driverless cars, and the increasing application of LiDAR in engineering projects, the investments in LiDAR market is accelerating at an exponential pace.
Driven by the encouragement from the governments worldwide for the adoption of LiDAR, the increasing application of LiDAR in engineering, manufacturing and mining projects and technological superiority of LiDAR technology – the LiDAR market is showcasing, what one may, refer to as the ‘gold rush’. The growing number of investments in the automotive industry and the accelerating demand for LiDAR in automotive applications for ADAS is being seen globally. The rapid influx of ‘fortune seekers’ in the solid state LiDAR gold mine is exhilarating.
Velodyne, the leading manufacturer, and developer of automotive LiDAR, generated a buzz when Ford and Baidu decided to invest $150 million in the company for commercialization of its laser-based sensors. Velodyne will use this investment to develop high-performance and cost-effective automotive LiDAR while expediting the design and production process.
Raj Nair, Ford Executive Vice President, Product Development and Chief Technology Officer, emphasizes, “From the very beginning of our autonomous vehicle program, we saw LiDAR as key enabler due to its sensing capabilities and how it complements radar and cameras.” Therefore, it is not a surprise why high-power LiDAR technology is being recognized by global automotive Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) as a crucial element to developing driverless vehicles.
Quanergy Systems, a pioneer in the solid-state sensor technology, foresees LiDAR technology as the most enabling technology for autonomous vehicles and expects to have a production sensor for $250 in the 2018-2018 frame. With already $120 million in venture funding from organizations like Delphi, Samsung Ventures, and Sensata Technologies among the few, Quanergy Systems is scaling its investment in LiDAR Research and Development. In an interview, Louay Eldada, CEO, Quanergy Systems emphasized the importance of LiDAR stating that the sensor ‘is the most capable sensor’ that is available for autonomous cars. Eldada also stated that while the LiDAR market space is becoming confusing space for investors – there are still a lot many of them ready to jump on the bandwagon!
Luminar Technologies, started by 22-year-old Austin Russell, emerged from what is being called the ‘stealth mode”, all set to revolutionize the automotive industry. This latest company to join the LiDAR fray is crafting a LiDAR system from scratch and has already raised $36 million in seed-stage funding from Canvas ventures, GVA Capital, and 1517 fund. Similarly, cashing on the autonomous vehicle’s boom is the California-based TetraVue. The company is one of the latest developers of LiDAR technology and has already landed $10 million led by Robert Bosch Venture Capital and Nautilus Venture Capital. The company aims to further develop its high definition time of flight flash system which will simplify the way an autonomous car will capture and process the data by solving the problem ‘optically’.
LiDAR Technology – The Global Gold Mine
However, it seems that the race for investments in the LiDAR automotive market is not limited to the United States, where the initial development work on the technology began. The technology market is now global. Moving far and beyond geopolitical boundaries, investments in the LiDAR market space has been taking place everywhere. The ones that are grabbing the interest of the automotive and technology market are:
- Hesai, founded in 2013 in Silicon Valley and relocated in Shanghai China in 2014, has raised a $16 million funding led by Pagoda Investment to further develop the LiDAR sensor for autonomous vehicles and natural gas leak detection systems.
- ‘Baraja’ – a Sydney-based start-up has bagged $1 million in federal commercialisation grants to develop what they call to a ‘3D laser eye’ to help driverless cars see better. The grant is expected to be used to miniaturize the laser scanner to deliver customers a prototype that is easier to integrate into the driverless cars.
- Oryx Vision, an Israeli company is developing an alternative to LiDAR that involves a long-range infrared laser. The company has already taken in a funding of $17 million from Bessemer Ventures, Maniv Mobility, and Trucks VC in addition to the $300,000 it raised from angel investors.
The investments in LiDAR space by the pursuers of autonomous vehicles are too many to state. The massive amounts of investments driving this gold mine must give Elon Musk sleepless nights. Musk has consistently hinted that the LiDAR technology for autonomous cars, ‘does not make sense’ and is ‘unnecessary’. If trends are to be seen, full autonomy is not going to be possible without the LiDAR technology. With LiDAR-on-a-chip soon to become a reality with Velodyne and Quanergy Systems leading the path, LiDAR technology will not only be a cost-effective solution but an intelligent investment into a booming gold mine as well.