LiDAR offers a number of advantages over other perception solutions, enabling smart machines to “see” far distances and generate a 3D representation of their surrounding environment to detect obstacles and make intelligent navigation decisions.

LiDAR Solution for Mass Production and Adoption

Contributed by | Cepton Technologies

Who is Cepton Technologies and what do you do?

Founded in 2016, Cepton Technologies, Inc. is a leading 3D sensing solutions provider shipping next generation LiDAR products for the automotive, industrial and mapping markets. Cepton's high performance LiDAR technology delivers high resolution imaging at a low cost to enable perception for smart machines. The company has released four long range, high performance sensors that are built upon our patented Micro-Motion (MMT™) platform, which is a precision optical mechanical device that is capable of extremely high resolution imaging while also being extremely power-efficient.


How does LiDAR function and why is it a good solution for 3D perception and navigation?

LiDAR utilizes light waves from a laser to send a pulse of light and measure the amount of time it takes to reflect back from objects to determine the distance between them. Since the speed of light is constant, distance can be easily calculated by measuring the time it takes for the beam to return. LiDAR systems use these pulses to create three-dimensional point clouds of their surrounding area, providing cars and other smart machines with highly accurate perception data to autonomously navigate.


Why should LiDAR be included with camera and radar systems for safe autonomous navigation?

LiDAR, radar and cameras will likely all be integrated together in smart machines like autonomous vehicles where safety is absolutely critical. LiDAR offers a number of advantages over other perception solutions, enabling smart machines to “see” far distances and generate a 3D representation of their surrounding environment to detect obstacles and make intelligent navigation decisions. Radar systems and cameras also provide useful information. Radar is good for determining the speed at which other objects are moving and can also detect stationary objects or vehicles to help avoid them. However, it isn’t great at determining whether the object is its lane or on the shoulder. Cameras are comparable to human vision; they can capture what’s happening around a smart machine, but when it’s dark cameras can only see areas lit by streetlights or a car’s headlights. In addition, it’s difficult for cameras to work well when roads are wet and create a glare. Using a combination of LiDAR, radar and cameras provides smart machines with rich information to navigate better in a variety of conditions.


What challenges are the UAV and autonomous vehicle industries facing when it comes to finding a LiDAR solution for mass production and adoption?

One challenge is that traditionally LiDAR has been very expensive to build and manufacture. Expensive LiDAR systems would only be suitable for high-end, luxury vehicles where the high cost gets passed onto the consumer. Furthermore, even today many LiDAR systems aren’t suitable for manufacturing at scale since the mechanical components in these LiDAR solutions are very complex. Another design challenge is that many LiDAR solutions are power-hungry, which could quickly drain a vehicle’s battery. Additionally, many LiDAR systems are bulky; consumers will be much more willing to buy an autonomous car that integrates LiDAR into the body of the car instead of having a large box of sensors mounted to the roof of their car.

Cepton’s MMT platform addresses the challenges of traditional LiDAR with high performance, low-cost LiDAR solutions that are energy-efficient and have a compact design. Our LiDAR has no rotational or frictional parts, enabling the sensors to be more easily manufactured and last longer. Additionally, Cepton’s solutions can be manufactured at scale for no more than a couple hundred dollars, opening up the gateway for our technology to be adopted into mainstream vehicles around the world. The sensors are small enough to be integrated into the body of a vehicle, such as a headlamp, enabling vehicles to maintain a sleek design. Cepton’s LiDAR is also low power so that it doesn’t drain a vehicles battery.


How do you see the industry overcoming the challenges to make autonomous vehicles more reliable and affordable?

When highly integrated and efficient LiDAR designs – like Cepton’s technology – are in mass production, making autonomous cars affordable for consumers will become much more viable. Today there are pilot tests happening around the world, gathering valuable data to help make autonomous vehicles more reliable and safe. Navigating a wide variety of road conditions and driving scenarios is enabling the industry to implement the learnings from road tests to further improve autonomous cars. The automotive industry will also need to work closely with local stakeholders and regulatory bodies to ensure companies are adhering to strict safety standards for the benefit of everyone.  


How close are we to autonomous vehicles being used by the general public?

Pilot programs are being conducted around the world that are testing cars, shuttles, trains and other solutions to make transportation safer and more accessible. We’ll see Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous capabilities in the mass market once the industry aligns on regulations and technology advances a bit more; in addition, insurance and liability issues all need to get worked out. We anticipate that Level 4 autonomous cars will be widely deployed in the 2023 timeframe. In the meantime, LiDAR technology (combined with camera technology and radar sensors), will be deployed in features like automatic emergency braking that will also improve the connected car experience.


How is LiDAR making mapping more affordable and accessible to various industries now.

LiDAR sensors can be paired with ground vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for use in mapping and surveying applications which can benefit a variety of industries, including mining, security, construction and agriculture. Some LiDAR solutions, like Cepton’s SORA 200, are lightweight and available for a couple hundred dollars which makes them cost-effective for integration with UAVs and more accessible for companies or individuals to adopt for 3D digital mapping. Terra Drone is one company that has developed an innovative solution for UAVs, cutting in half the cost of a traditional mapping system without compromising accuracy. Terra Drone’s system is equipped with a Cepton SORA LiDAR sensor on the bottom and six GNSS antennas to accurately map, without using a pricey initial measurement unit (IMU) found in traditional solutions. This type of highly accurate, light weight and low-cost solution opens up many new exciting possibilities for 3D mapping.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow

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