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Velodyne Lidar has announced plans to bring LiDAR sensors for driverless cars into mass production in 2021 – with a target price of USD $500 and a feature list and form factor that will appeal to self-driving car original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) around the world.
Velarray H800: First in a New Generation of LiDAR Sensors for Driverless Cars
Velodyne Lidar’s latest product, the Velarray H800, is the first in a series of LiDAR sensor products that the company is due to announce. It is designed with automotive OEMs in mind, specifically providing LiDAR vision sensing for self-driving cars. It can be applied in other automation settings when solid-state LiDAR technology, low cost, and small form factor are important.
No Moving Parts But Packed Full of Features
Unlike early LiDAR sensors for driverless cars, the Velarray H800 is a solid-state device with no moving parts. Earlier iterations of self-driving car LiDARs were mounted on bases that rotated mechanically to emit laser light in 360 degrees. Manufacturing this complex mechanical structure to withstand the rugged demands of automotive use resulted in excessively expensive products. The first LiDAR sensors for driverless cars sold for upwards of USD $80,000.
As a result, the Velarray H800 has slightly less field of view (FoV) than the early bucket or siren-shaped devices. That being said, at 120 horizontal degrees FoV and 16 vertical degrees FoV, the latest in self-driving car LiDARs is well-suited to automotive applications. The relatively wide FoV means that corners and sloping roads are within the Velarray H800’s sensing range.
As well as a relatively wide FoV, the Velarray H800 has a functioning range of between 0.1 m and 200 m. This means that it can be trusted even in high-speed highway settings.
Velodyne’s use of solid-state LiDAR sensors for driverless cars helps to keep manufacturing costs down without sacrificing ruggedization. It also enables them to produce a product with a very low form factor. The final product was designed in consultation with OEM designers to ensure it could be widely employed in self-driving car applications.
What is LiDAR?
LiDAR (light detection and ranging) is superior to radar or optical camera sensors for automated driving sensing applications, according to proprietary testing performed by Velodyne Lidar. It works by pulsing millions of beams of light (in the form of harmless lasers) per second throughout the environment. This light then bounces off solid objects and returns to the sensor, where its time of travel is measured to reveal the object’s distance from the device.
On-board computing allows the sensor device to use these data points to create a 3D model of the surrounding environment in real-time. This model or image can then be employed in conjunction with driverless car software to provide numerous features.
LiDAR requires much less power than camera sensors and creates a far more detailed image than radar solutions.
The proprietary micro-LiDAR array architecture (MLA) that Velodyne Lidar employs includes eight edge-emitting lasers, photodetectors, and a proprietary ASIC chip. These all fit into a package about the size of a postage stamp.
The low form factor means that the Velarray H800 is suitable for interior and exterior applications and can be integrated by OEM designers and engineers with much more design freedom and flexibility.
Velodyne also states that this configuration makes automated manufacturing more viable, keeping the unit cost as low as possible.
Sensors for Self-Driving Cars
The good FoV, low form factor, unit price, and LiDAR technology in the Velarray H800 LiDAR sensors for driverless cars is specifically designed to support advanced driver assistance systems (ADASs) in the latest self-driving cars.
The Velarray H800 can be paired with Velodyne’s Vella software suite to offer a full suite of ADAS safety features from Lane Keep Assist to Automated Emergency Braking.
Self-driving Car LiDARs for Improved Safety
Anand Gopalan, Velodyne Lidar CEO, cites the potential for safety improvements with self-driving car LiDARs as one of three critical factors in the launch of the Velarray H800. He said:
The world needs enhanced safety in consumer vehicles and the Velarray product line makes that available to end consumers creating safer roadways and cars for all.”
Anand Gopalan, Velodyne Lidar CEO
With the World Health Organization (WHO) now reporting 1.35 million traffic deaths occurring around the world each year, Velodyne founder and CMO Marta Hall echoed Gopland’s emphasis on safety:
“We believe the Velarray H800 is the first of many LiDAR sensors that will be used in systems for powerful vehicle safety. Velodyne is introducing it as a key sensor for systems designed as building blocks for vehicle safety."
Hall added, “Once the public experiences the benefits of reliable automated safety systems, they will welcome more products like this. We can save lives with ADAS.”
Next Steps for Velodyne Lidar
Velodyne Lidar, which provides LiDAR solutions for autonomous vehicles, driver assistance, delivery solutions, robotics, navigation, mapping, and many more automation applications, has already shipped sample Velarray H800 units to qualified customers and expects production volumes to be ready by mid-2021.
The Velarray H800 is the first in a series of solid-state sensors that Velodyne is bringing to the ADAS market, with more announcements due in coming months.
They will face competition in solid-state sensors for self-driving cars. Innoviz solid-state sensors (using a mirror system to direct light around the environment) will be used in the upcoming iX from BMW.
Meanwhile, Volvo intends to use competitor Luminar LiDAR sensors in its upcoming XC90 in 2022, while Lucid and Mercedes-Benz have also announced products due to be released in coming years that use rival LiDAR technologies.
With stiff competition, Velodyne Lidars’s range of affordable, small, and reliable LiDAR sensors for driverless cars will be hotly anticipated by all players in the automotive, automation, and sensor industries alike.
References and Further Reading
Abuelsamid, Sam (2020) Velodyne’s $500 Velarray Solid-State LiDAR Goes Into Production In 2021. Forbes. [Online] https://www.forbes.com/sites/samabuelsamid/2020/11/13/velodyne-announces-500-velarray-h800-LiDAR-production-in-2021/
Velodyne LiDAR (2020) Velodyne LiDAR Unveils Solid State LiDAR Sensor. [Online] https://velodyneLiDAR.com/press-release/velodyne-LiDAR-unveils-breakthrough-solid-state-LiDAR-sensor/