The LIDAR, a sensor that gives an autonomous vehicle its "eyes," can cost more than twice as much as the vehicle itself.  This is obviously a bit of a problem. A popular early model from Velodyne, used by many for their self-driving vehicles, costs a staggering $75,000. Originally developed for DARPA’s self-driving challenge in 2007, the expensive piece of equipment is also looks rather absurd.

“They kind of look like spinning Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets,” Chris Urmson, head of Google's self-driving car project, told the Washington Post.

“It looks like a giant turret,” said John Eggert, Velodyne’s automotive sales manager.

Velodyine only made 500 of the $75,000 sensors, as they well know that they aren't practical for mass production. But fortunately, it is a problem that is getting better. Velodyne and others are developing drastically cheaper LIDAR, suggesting the price of the sensors slow the roll out of autonomous driving.

Velodyne is producing a LIDAR sensor that costs less than $500, the VLP-32, that it says will be powerful enough for high-level assisted driving, and autonomous driving.


Quanergy Chief Executive Louay Edlada believes LIDAR will cost below $100 in five years and it will be releasing a $250 model next month. It will be a solid state unit with none of the moving parts. Delphi, a Quanergy partner, said it plans to use four of the $250 LIDAR sensors to provide "eyes" for a vehicle.

The traditional LIDAR has a spinning box which bounces laser beams off targets and captures the reflections to map out its surroundings. A solid state LIDAR would deliver the same optimal results, but without moving. This is similar to other technologies, such as computer hard drives, which matured from having moving parts to those that don’t.

Velodyne says that it is on the way to producing their own solid-state LIDAR.

Google, which has since developed its own LIDAR sensors, will be coming out with less costly versions. Urmson described them as comparable to the $75,000 sensors, but an order of magnitude cheaper, even at production quantities of 50 or 100 units.

One notable unbeliever to the LIDAR technology is Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk. He has called it unnecessary, saying that optic cameras and radar, which guide Tesla's Model S and X autonomous cars, are enough and can do the job.

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