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CES 2019: automotive lidar challengers tout new wares

09 Jan 2019

Cepton, Blackmore, SOS Lab, AEye, and Ouster among those revealing new designs in Las Vegas.

Developers of lidar technology for autonomous vehicle applications have revealed a raft of new products at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, an event that in recent years has become the preferred location for launching updated designs.

Among those to announce new or refined products so far are California-based Cepton, Ouster, and AEye, alongside Montana-headquartered Blackmore Sensors & Analytics, Korea-based SOS Lab, and China’s RoboSense. New company Sense Photonics, out of Durham, North Carolina, also announced a development partnership with chip firm Infineon Technologies.

Blackmore’s Doppler system
Of the new releases, some of the boldest claims in terms of performance are for Blackmore’s Doppler lidar sensors. The Bozeman firm says that its multi-beam system - shortlisted for a Prism Award at next month's SPIE Photonics West - delivers instantaneous velocity and range data beyond 450 meters, from a unit of similar size and power consumption to a small laptop PC.

The system supports a 120 x 30° field of view (FOV), software-defined operation, precise velocity measurements with accuracy down to 0.1 m/s on objects moving up to 150 m/s (335 mph), and measurement rates in excess of 2.4 million points per second, claims the firm.

Already available for pre-order and with initial samples shipping now, Bozeman says that full systems will ship to customers in Q2. The high performance comes at a cost of “less than $20,000” to strategic partners.

Explaining the company’s use of frequency modulation (FM) instead of amplitude modulation, Blackmore CEO and co-founder Randy Reibel said: “The reality is that physics ultimately wins, no matter how much funding chases inferior alternatives. But more importantly, FM-based Doppler lidar sensors are safer for self-driving applications.”

Blackmore is also now shipping a lidar development platform, pairing the lidar element with interchangeable optical sensor heads so that customers are able to adapt the technology for their particular requirements.

Co-founder Jim Curry added: “Development partners want to be part of the design process, and this new lidar platform helps our customers efficiently hone their specification requests and better understand the advantages that Doppler lidar brings to their applications.”

Low-cost option
At the opposite end of the price spectrum is China’s RoboSense. It claims that its new MEMS-based optomechanical lidar has a production cost of just $200 per unit, while offering a 120° FOV and full “level 5” autonomous driving capability, and no blind spot around the vehicle.

The Shenzhen firm, which announced a $45 million funding round last year, adds that the system is capable of a 200 meter range – even though the company is using 905 nm emitters in its systems, which are not allowed to deploy nearly as much power as rival 1550 nm lidars due to eye-safety regulations.

Hailing from Gwangju, Korea, the startup company SOS Lab is demonstrating its hybrid approach at the same event. Its small-format “SL-1” is said to combine a range of 200 meters with a speed of 20 frames per second for autonomous vehicles.

Meanwhile, the San Jose developer Cepton launched a pair of new devices, called “Vista-M” and “Vista-X”. Cepton says the Vista-M option combines a 120° FOV with a 150 meter range into a sensor “the size of a typical box of crayons”.

The compact design supports integration within vehicle headlights, tail lights, or side-view mirrors, giving designers more freedom than the more familiar rooftop-mounted lidar systems.

The Vista-X version extends that range performance to 200 meters, with 10 per cent reflectivity objects and a 120° FOV. “This wide FOV enables object detection, tracking and localization in a much wider area,” states the firm. “The uniform 0.2° spatial resolution across the entire FOV eliminates the complexity and safety risk in run-time FOV configurations, enabling the design flexibility to integrate Vista-X into the front, back or inside of the vehicle.”

Vertical FOV
San Francisco-based Ouster claims that its “OS-1-128” flash lidar, featuring 128 individual lasers, offers a 45° vertical FOV. That is said to be the widest of any commercially sold high-performance lidar sensor.

One of several products to win an innovation award from the CES organizers, the Ouster technology produces 2.62 million points per second to form the dense point clouds necessary for object detection and machine learning in autonomous driving.

“Partnerships with automotive manufacturers have resulted in seamless integrations within vehicle bumpers and behind windshields,” noted the firm, adding that it would announce more details of the partnerships and a live multi-sensor lidar demo during CES. The OS-1-128 should be available for volume purchases this summer.

Not to be outdone, another California company – this time AEye – has released its new “AE200” lidar solution. Like Cepton, it claims a range performance of up to 200 meters for objects of 10 per cent reflectivity at 0.1° resolution.

“The AE200 Series will be modular in design and capable of up to 120° by 45° FOV,” added the firm, also saying that the product would become available to automotive OEMs and “Tier 1s” this summer.

Initially backed by Intel and Airbus, AEye revealed details of its $40 million series B round of funding on the eve of CES. The additional funding, some of which came from the venture wing of Japanese car firm Subaru, will be used to scale AEye’s operations to meet global demand.

Itaru Ueda, who manages the Subaru-SBI Innovation Fund, said: “The AEye investment aligns perfectly with Subaru’s aim to invest in leading-edge technology to advance our assisted and autonomous driving efforts. AEye is a front-runner in developing accurate, low-latency, low-cost perception systems, and we anticipate great synergy in working with AEye towards safe, reliable vehicle autonomy.”

In a field now boasting scores of well-funded lidar technology developers, one of the latest to emerge is Sense Photonics. Based in Durham, North Carolina, the company is showing off its prototype flash lidar system at CES.

Last week the firm announced a partnership with Infineon Technologies, and the semiconductor chip maker is showcasing the Sense Photonics technology at its booth in Las Vegas.

JENOPTIK Light & OpticsDelta Optical Thin Film A/SAVANTES BVAUREA TECHNOLOGYFISBASPECTROGON ABDataRay Inc.
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