Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Lidar is a 3D laser scanning technology originally developed in the 1960s for the military to detect submarines. A lidar system projects laser beam pulses onto a rotating mirror and then collects the light reflected to map the distance between objects in the surrounding area and produce a detailed 3D image. Using the speed of light as a baseline, the system detects the time of flight of the light pulses to gauge how distant objects are. Most lidar systems use light in near-infrared and UV spectrums.
Over time, many technologies tend to trickle down from addressing specific, high-grade enterprise needs to targeting consumers, offering considerably lower prices and different implementations than their predecessors. Lidar has gone from being used in submarine detection, to having a role in the development of autonomous vehicles, an area that will need highly accurate and cost-effective versions of the technology. Although lidar will be a principal enabler of self-driving cars, other technical approaches are also in the works.
Oryx Vision is one company working to help bring this vision to life. The Israeli innovator of lidar solutions promises what it calls nano-antenna sensors, which perform 50 times better and cost much less than lidar technologies currently on the market. Founded in 2009, the start-up develops solid-state, depth-vision solutions for self-driving cars. Its new sensor uses long-wave infrared lasers to track objects on the roadway. The company claims the technology can see through fog and direct sunlight, environments that other lidar systems currently struggle with. Its microscopic antennas treat the reflected signal as a wave rather than a particle, allowing the sensor to accurately calculate the speed of nearby objects and offer great detail about what it sees.
The company received a boost this week, raising $50 million in a second funding round led by Third Point Ventures and Walden Riverwood Ventures. As lidar is a major way to provide eyesight for self-driving cars, the speed at which the technology develops and its price falls will be a factor in determining how quickly autonomous driving becomes mainstream. Many companies have been racing to innovate in this area given the mass potential of the market. The appropriate lidar systems will need to be able to process detailed imagery at high speeds through heavy traffic and poor weather conditions.
Mega companies such Google and Uber, along with most car-makers, have been looking to perfect the technology, which will, in theory, create an accident-free environment. The first company to do so will have bragging rights as well as a significant revenue stream from licensing intellectual property rights.
We believe that autonomous cars with no human driver will remain a research project until at least 2025 (CCS Insight Predictions for 2017 and Beyond). It's a matter of legislation, regulation, safety and consumer acceptance all lining up. It will take a level of trust in the technology to alter transport behaviours. This will be a big shift.
For now we're excited to see each new step forward. Companies such as Oryx Vision will play crucial roles in driving the concept of autonomous vehicles.