UPDATED 12:00 EST / JANUARY 03 2019


With new 128-laser sensor, Ouster ups the ante on LiDAR

San Francisco-based Ouster Inc. is one of the dozens of companies working to develop cost-effective LiDAR sensors for autonomous vehicles. Today, the startup introduced a new product that may position it as a front-runner in the race.

LiDAR, short for light detection and ranging, is the primary means with which self-driving cars navigate. The technology is based on the same basic principle as radar. LiDAR sensors emit laser pulses in a circular pattern, pick up light that bounces back from nearby objects and use the reflected light to assemble a three-dimensional map of the environment.

This approach was pioneered in the early 2000s by a company called Velodyne LiDAR Corp. that dominates the market to this day. The firm’s top-shelf Alpha Puck sensor, which offers the highest resolution in the industry, costs as much $100,000. Ouster said that its newly debuted OS-1-128 sensor will provide the same resolution for less than a sixth of the price.

“A $100,000 sensor might be great for early-stage development or a CES demo, but it’s simply not something that is going to find its way onto tens of thousands of vehicles deployed in the field,” Raffi Mardirosian, Ouster’s vice president of corporate development, told SiliconANGLE.

The other startups trying to win market share from Velodyne also offer lower-cost products. Luminar Technologies Inc., one of the highest-profile contenders, is working to reduce the price of its LiDAR sensors to just a few hundred dollars. But Mardirosian argued that rivals’ sensors make compromises in certain areas that have to be prioritized just as much as affordability if self-driving cars are to hit the road en masse.

“Our point of view is that the lidar industry has been overly focused on flashy, expensive front-facing sensors with long range, while ignoring all of the other things that are needed to put autonomous vehicles on the road,” Mardirosian said.

The executive listed image resolution and field of view as particularly important. “The OS-1 makes leaps on both of these fronts. First, its high resolution gives a much denser image to use for object classification, which in turn improves the algorithms used to pilot the cars,” he said. Ouster attributes this image quality to the fact that the sensor is the only product on the market beside Velodyne’s Alpha Puck with 128 laser emitters, or channels. 

“Second, its high vertical and wide horizontal field of view gives it the ability to see right up to the tires of the car while keeping its eye on the road at and above the horizon,” Mardirosian added.

According to Ouster, the 45-degree vertical field of view provided by the OS-1-128 beats all the commercially available alternatives on the market. Having a bigger observable area can potentially reduce the number of sensors that need to be mounted onto a car, which would in turn lower costs, while also improving detection. 

Ouster is aiming to start mass production of the OS-1-128 in the second quarter of 2019. The system will join the existing 16- and 64-channel LiDAR sensors that the startup already sells today.

Photo: Ouster

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