UPDATED 18:49 EDT / JANUARY 02 2020


Bosch teases low-cost lidar sensors for self-driving vehicles

Automotive technology supplier Robert Bosch GmbH said today it has developed a low-cost version of a Light Detection and Ranging sensor that lets autonomous vehicles “see” a three-dimensional view of the world around them.

The company told Reuters the internally developed sensor could help speed up the adoption of self-driving vehicles, which has hit a roadblock amid higher-than-expected costs and increasing regulatory concerns.

Lidar, as the technology is known, is thought to be a key enabler for self-driving cars. It works by using light-based sensors to generate three-dimensional images of the road, but the technology remains far too expensive for mass market use. If it were to become more affordable, proponents say, lidar would provide autonomous vehicles with the depth data they need for an accurate assessment of the distance between themselves and other road users, including vehicles and pedestrians.

Developers of lidar technology have already come a long way in trying to make that happen. The earliest lidar sensors were big, bulky devices that fit on the roof of autonomous vehicles, but these days they’re much more compact and can be installed almost anywhere. The problem, according to Reuters, is that these lidar devices still cost several thousand dollars each, whereas analysts say they need to sell for as little as $200 in order to become commercially viable.

“The biggest issue with lidar is its cost and size,” said Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy. “What Bosch is aiming at is compelling, but we’ll have to see just how low cost they can actually be and what, if any, strings are attached.”

Analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. said Bosch has a “phenomenal track record” when it comes to mass producing new technologies for cars. He said low-cost lidar sensors of the kind Bosch is promising would be a huge step toward commercializing the technology.

“As always with innovation it requires economies of scale, so the current high cost of lidar is expected to come down,” Mueller said. “But it all starts with with a trusted and proven supplier like Bosch going into mass production.”

Bosch, which plans to show off its lidar sensor at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week, hasn’t provided any details on pricing but told Reuters it’s working on making the technology “production ready” with a focus on the “affordable mass market.”

Companies that include General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo are all said to be evaluating the use of lidar with the autonomous vehicles they’re developing.

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about lidar. Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk is one of its biggest critics, and previously dismissed the technology as a “fool’s errand” because of its high cost. Instead, Tesla’s vehicles rely on a combination of cameras and radar in order to see the world around them.

Photo: julientromeur/Pixabay

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