No other sensor technology in the automotive sector stimulates the imagination of financial investors as much as the light detection and ranging process (lidar). According to Woodside Capital Partners, in the past 24 months alone, investments totaled around 760 million dollars.
By way of comparison, in the same period less than half (321 million dollars) was invested in cameras and just 61.8 million dollars in the radar sector. There are now over a hundred lidar companies on the market - with very different technical approaches.
The lidar technology is basically based on the evaluation of reflected light rays for the spatial representation of the vehicle environment. The majority of companies rely on the cheaper CMOS technology, which operates with near-infrared frequencies in the range from 830 nm to 940 nm. Alternatively, a technology based mostly on InGaAs semiconductors with short-wave infrared in the range between 1000 nm and 1600 nm is used. The differences in environmental detection are even greater: initially by rotation, increasingly on a flash or MEMs basis or with innovative mechanical scanning elements.
According to IHS Markit, sophisticated driver assistance systems through to highly automated systems will boost demand to five million vehicles equipped with lidar by 2025. However, this requires significantly lower unit costs for lidar sensors. As a target value, IHS quotes a price point of 200 dollars, which, however, can only be achieved with certain processes. Specifically, the market researchers have analyzed three types of sensor: In the case of a 905 nm lidar with a mechanical scanning process, the unit price is to be reduced from currently around 1500 dollars to 600 dollars by 2025, and in the case of a 1550 nm system also with a mechanical scanning process from 1200 to 620 dollars. Only for a 905 nm lidar with an electronic scanning process, IHS expects the unit price to drop from currently 590 dollars to below the 200 dollar threshold by 2025.
Which of the numerous competing technologies will finally assert itself, is however still completely open. In addition, IHS regards "Imaging Radar", i.e. high-resolution imaging radar, as a potential competitor: In the future, radar systems could also be able to determine an exact spatial representation of the vehicle environment and thus make additional lidar sensors superfluous.
At present, however, the new lidar-based products dominate. LeddarTech, for example, presented "Leddar Pixell", a system for near-field detection without blind spots, at an AutoSens event in Brussels in mid-September. LeddarTech also brought a demonstration vehicle to Brussels. AEye, among others, also exhibited there, integrating the signals of a 2D camera and a 3D lidar dynamically in real time with their "Dynamic Vixel" system and thus wanting to combine the advantages of both technologies. The German company Blickfeld, on the other hand, wanted a MEMS-based lidar sensor with significantly larger micro-mirrors than other systems. These should provide an extended field of view and a higher robustness and at the same time be cheaper to produce due to a simplified manufacturing process.
The lidar market is still somewhat unclear, but the industry is expected to consolidate in the future.