Canadian Company Has a Foot in the LiDAR Race
Nadia Krieger posted on August 30, 2018 |

Here’s a $70,000 question: what technology component is the biggest barrier to making autonomous vehicles (AV) affordable for the every day consumer? The answer, unequivocally, is LiDAR. 

LiDAR sensors generate 3D point maps of their surroundings to help navigate the road. (Image courtesy of LeddarTech)
LiDAR sensors generate 3D point maps of their surroundings to help navigate the road. (Image courtesy of LeddarTech)

Traditionally, LiDAR sensors are built with mechanical moving parts that cost tens of thousands of dollars, are difficult to miniaturize, and are susceptible to the bumps and vibrations of a moving car.

But what if there was a version of LiDAR that was stably mounted, safer, and manufactured at a fraction of the cost? This is what solid-state LiDAR (SSL) brings to the AV industry: LiDAR-on-a-chip. SSL can reduce the cost of this piece of vital AV technology from tens of thousands of dollars to, some experts project, a few hundred.

Quebec-based LeddarTech Inc. is in a race with several companies working on bringing LiDAR chips to the market that are both effective and affordable enough for Tier-1 AV original equipment manufacturers. This month, LeddarTech released its 3D SSL SoC (system-on-a-chip) evaluation package to an undisclosed automotive partner. If successful, LeddarTech will start mass production to begin in the first half of 2019. 

Half a decade ago, AV fleets were outfitted with LiDAR in the form of a large, clunky, and prohibitively expensive device with a spinning mirror. Traditional, mechanical LiDAR has, in the past, caused engineers to doubt this sensor’s ability to operate safely and without failing. These doubts culminated in an incident last April when an autonomous Uber car—outfitted with a mechanical Velodyne LiDAR model—was responsible for the death of a pedestrian.

But LeddarTech is one of a handful of companies finding ways to reinvent LiDAR as a system of sensors, placed in various locations on the car in order to get a full 360-degree view of the road.

Other notable names in the solid-state industry include QuanEnergy, which markets its S3 as world’s first “affordable” SSL solution, with packages available at $900. Also in the race is Innoviz, which has partnered with market leaders Aptiv (Delphi Automotive) and Magna International.

LiDAR, which officially stands for “light detection and ranging” but is also commonly known as a portmanteau of “light” and “radar,” is used by airplanes and helicopters to make maps of land areas. Despite these humble beginnings in geographical modeling, the tech is blowing up on this side of 2000 for its application in AVs.

By sending out short bursts of light and measuring how long it takes for that light to reflect back to the sensor, LiDAR fulfills the crucial function of localization for the AVs. Localization is used to place the car in amongst objects in its immediate environment and determine its distance from them. 

LiDAR does this by creating “point maps,” which bring data that can be easily interpreted by machine learning system to help it understand the car’s surroundings. This is much more effective than regular cameras, which deliver images that are much harder for a computer to make sense of.

DigitalTrends reports that virtually all AV experts believe that true vehicle autonomy is only possible with LiDAR. Only one major player in AV, Tesla, chooses not to use LiDAR.

Last week, Zion Market Research released a report predicting that the LiDAR market is expected to be worth $2.1 billion by 2024. 

A LiDAR sensors the size of a coffee can is seen at the top of the AV system mounted on top of this Google car. It is used to get a full 360 degree view of the surroundings. (Image courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk)
A LiDAR sensors the size of a coffee can is seen at the top of the AV system mounted on top of this Google car. It is used to get a full 360 degree view of the surroundings. (Image courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk)

LeddarTech’s is claiming that their LCA2 chip is the world’s first SSL SoC that is on the verge of being mass produced. This chip uses LeddarTech’s LeddarSP signal processing software to produce raw LiDAR data such as distance, position, and intensity of echoes.

LeddarTech will also be releasing a third-generation LiDAR SoC, the LeddarCore LCA3, which supports 3D flash and hybrid MEMs flash LiDAR designs. The LCA3 will be available for testing in 2019 and is scheduled to be mass produced in 2020.

“We’re proud to be the first company in the industry to deliver 3D solid-state LiDAR SoCs,” says LeddarTech General Manager of Automotive Business Unit Michael Poulin. “This announcement shows that LeddarTech is a company that’s beyond the point of conceptualization and delivers on its ideas and promises.”

Earlier this year, LeddarTech Inc. also partnered with OPTIS, which offers laser propagation simulation, as well as optical calculations for CAD.

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