San Francisco - The first heavily automated mass-market vehicles for consumers could go on sale as soon as 2022, if one or more vehicle manufacturers adopt a new sub-$500 (R7500) lidar sensing package being developed by Silicon Valley startup Luminar.
The tremendous cost of lidar - prices for individual sensors currently range from about $6000 (R89 000) to more than $100 000 (R1.48m) - is one of the big stumbling blocks to the wide rollout of self-driving vehicles, whether in commercial delivery and robo-taxi fleets such as those being developed by Ford and General Motors, or in passenger vehicles aimed at consumers.
Luminar has developed a low-cost lidar platform that bundles hardware and software and is being tested by several carmakers, according to Austin Russell, Luminar chief executive officer and founder.
The company's new Iris system will be offered in two versions, one that will enable hands-free "freeway autonomy" and a less expensive version that will enable some automated functions, such as automatic emergency steering and braking. The first is designed to sell for under $1000 (R14 850) at higher production volumes, while the second, which is intended to plug into manufacturers' advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), is expected to sell for under $500, Russell told Reuters.
Manufacturers and suppliers are increasingly skeptical about the speed of adoption of fully automated self-driving systems, because of both their high cost and complexity. In the meantime, they have begun focusing on deploying more ADAS features, which share components, but cost much less and can generate much-needed revenue to help defray the cost of developing full self-driving systems.