Most manufacturers of autonomous driving vehicles consider LiDAR an essential technology for true self-driving vehicles, although there is debate around LiDAR vs Cameras for consumer vehicles. The technology, which provides an upgrade over radar or camera-based systems, has been in development for years. However, the costs for LiDAR systems remains high. Velodyne, for example, offers a rooftop system for around $75,000, while Waymo offers units at $7,500. Luminar’s third-generation LiDar, nicknamed Iris, could continue the shift of the LiDar landscape toward greater affordability. The system costs less than $1,000 per unit.
Luminar describes Iris as an automotive grade device with a range of 250 meters. A single Iris device could be used in semi-autonomous systems to help keep a vehicle in a single lane and to keep a safe distance from other vehicles. This makes the device a good fit for semi-autonomous systems that handle highway driving. Importantly, the LiDar system provides improved recognition of non-moving obstacles, which camera and radar systems have struggled with in the past. LiDar systems also outperform camera systems during nighttime operation.
Fully autonomous vehicles would require several Iris devices to provide 360 degree scanning. However, the affordability of the device has helped Luminar strike deals with several vehicle makers. The company indicated they have six highway driving collaborations in process. Due to production and design timelines, the Iris system should see commercial implementation in 2022 or 2023.
In addition to being more affordable, Iris is also smaller than most LiDar systems. This compact design makes it easier for manufacturers to discretely integrate the system into existing body designs. The system is also lightweight and requires minimal power to operate. Luminar has also developed new software for the Iris system. This software will run the sensor functions, including tracking, object detection and classification. Once the system has undergone road testing, Luminar intends to fine tune the software for greater functionality.
See LiDAR vs Cameras for more details on how LiDAR is used in self-driving cars.