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Quanergy announces mass production of solid-state lidar sensors

05 Jan 2017

Venture-backed US firm says deliveries of its low-cost ‘S3’ model aimed at automotive applications will begin later this year.

Quanergy Systems, one several companies working on lidar technology for integration with self-driving vehicles, says that it will begin mass production and deliveries of its low-cost “S3” module this year.

Timed to coincide with this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas – where the solid-state technology is one of several “Best of Innovation” prize winners - the Californian firm’s announcement comes a few months after it raised $90 million in a series B round of venture capital intended to fund a production ramp.

$250 lidar sensor
While autonomous vehicles represent the largest long-term opportunity for Quanergy’s S3, the company also sees applications in industrial automation, robotics, drones, and security.

Its CEO Louay Eldada said: “We believe that 2017 will be the year that lidar demonstrates that it can be an affordable, reliable mass market product.” At last year’s CES event, Quanergy suggested that the S3 could sell for just $250 when manufactured in serious volumes.

That kind of price point is crucial if deployments in self-driving vehicles are to take off as Quanergy and rivals like Velodyne Lidar and Israeli startup Oryx Vision hope. While the technology regularly features in the autonomous cars already developed by the likes of Google, Ford and others, it has tended to be both bulky and costly.

The S3 promises to change all that, with Eldada saying: “The S3 is the only product that can satisfy this demand and deliver true solid-state 3D sensing at a reasonable price. We’re in a unique position to finally bring this technology to market, and enable amazing innovation in self-driving and machine vision applications.”

Fundamental barriers
That point is echoed by Steve Beringhause, the CTO at Sensata Technologies, the former Texas Instruments sensors and controls division that was one of the investors to take part in Quanergy’s series B round.

“The high cost and low reliability of lidar systems have been fundamental barriers to the adoption of self-driving vehicles,” he said. “The S3 system fits seamlessly into automotive architectures and we believe that it will be the clear industry leader in cost and reliability.”

According to Quanergy, the sensor could be concealed into the body of any vehicle, offering uncompromised design aesthetics and aerodynamics, dependable real-time 3D mapping and object detection, tracking and classification.

The firm claims that as many as 80 per cent of road traffic accidents are “potentially avoidable” by incorporating lidar sensors into vehicles.

As well as signing a strategic deal with Sensata, over the past year it has agreed a contract manufacturing partnership with Nasdaq-listed Flex (formerly known as Flextronics) to scale up production.

VCSEL-illuminated lidar
Also showing off its photonics technology for automotive lidar in Las Vegas this week is the Albuquerque-based VCSEL specialist TriLumina.

Like Quanergy, it is touting the potential price point of the lidar units made possible by its illumination modules, and is demonstrating a new 256-pixel 3D lidar sensor developed in collaboration with LeddarTech, a spin-off from Canada’s national optics institute (INO).

“This high-resolution 3D lidar represents a true breakthrough in automotive sensing,” claims the US firm. “Powered by TriLumina's illumination modules, this solid-state lidar solution is enabling next-generation ADAS [advanced driver assistance systems] and autonomous vehicles.

“This lidar platform accelerates the path to wide deployment by providing a reliable, high-performance, low-cost system demanded by OEMs for mass-market ADAS applications.”

TriLumina’s CEO Brian Wong said: “We are building complete Illumination modules with our patented, back-emitting, flip-chip VCSEL arrays and driver circuits to provide the highest efficiency and most powerful illumination solutions available.”

Analog Devices deal
While at CES, the VCSEL manufacturer revealed that it was now collaborating with the giant US semiconductor maker Analog Devices (ADI) on a new illumination module for automotive lidar sensors.

“When coupled with ADI’s driver technology, [our flip-chip VCSEL arrays] provide higher optical power, enabling ‘flash’ lidar systems to achieve greater range,” said Wong. “We are delighted to be working with ADI, an influential leader in automotive ADAS solutions.”

Last November, ADI acquired solid-state beam-steering technology from Colorado-based Vescent Photonics, saying at the time: “Vescent’s innovative non-mechanical beam steering technology enables more robust integrated lidar systems that overcome many of the major drawbacks associated with today’s bulky mechanical offerings such as reliability, size, and cost.”

Chris Jacobs, ADI’s general manager of automotive safety, added: “This innovative technology will play an important role in making lidar systems more compact, more robust, and an affordable feature in every new car worldwide.”

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