How LiDAR Fits Into the Future of Autonomous Driving

The tracking technology may play a huge role in AV development

Dylan Hughes
Geek Culture
Published in
3 min readMay 5, 2021

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Velodyne LiDAR
Image from Velodyne Lidar

The future of autonomous driving is not simple. The complexity of a self-driving vehicle is exactly why it’s taking so long to safely bring them into the world.

There are a ton of uses for autonomous vehicles that are being tested more and more in the real world. In the future, we will see robo-taxis with Uber and Lyft stickers all over the road. Amazon will deliver packages via a self-driving vehicle and semis delivering thousands of pounds of materials could also be driverless.

One of the most important parts of the autonomous vehicle will be its “eyes” — how it sees the world around it. For most companies, the vehicle’s eyes will be LiDAR.

LiDAR, which stands for “light detection and ranging,” pulses out laser waves to navigate the surrounding environment and map the distance of objects. LiDAR can track the distance to an object within a few centimeters of accuracy from up to 60 meters away.

Perhaps the largest — or at least most interesting — player in autonomous vehicles is Tesla. Tesla, though, happens to be against LiDAR, opting for cameras and radar instead.

An article done by Automotive World in August 2020 lays out the case for and against LiDAR.

One of the key strengths of LiDAR is the number of areas that show potential for improvement. These include solid-state sensors, which could reduce its cost tenfold, sensor range increases of up to 200m, and 4-dimensional LiDAR, which senses the velocity of an object as well as its position in 3-D space. However, despite these exciting advances, LiDAR is still hindered by a key factor; its significant cost.

Cost is the reason Elon Musk is against using LiDAR for Tesla, as lowering the cost of his vehicles is already a big enough problem as is.

LiDAR used to be much more expensive than it is today. Google’s first driverless car employed a $70,000 system, as Automotive World notes. But cost has come down significantly since, with LiDAR-maker Velodyne offering a unit for less than $500 that could be street-ready by 2022 or ’23.

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Dylan Hughes
Geek Culture

Two-time self-development author writing on whatever interests me. Follow me on Instagram: chyaboidylan