By Gideon Scanlon
San Jose, California — January 2, 2018 — The dream of a world filled with autonomous vehicles may be almost nigh after an announcement from leading 3D vision systems firm Velodyne regarding its light detection and ranging (LIDAR) equipment.
On Monday, a spokesperson for the California-based firm announced that it would be slashing the price of its top-selling sensor, the VLP-16, by half to about $8000 to $4000 U.S from about $10000 to $5000 Canadian.
“Since its launch, customers have been lining up to purchase the VLP-16 and we’ve been able to meet that growing demand by expanding production,” says CEO David Hall, adding that by passing lower prices to their customers, Velodyne is taking a step towards the firm’s long-term aim.
“Our goal the democratization of transportation safety by making it accessible to every man, woman, and child in the world as quickly as possible.”
Like all LIDAR systems, the VLP-16 uses lasers to accurately map images of surrounding terrain in real-time, an ability vital to the safe operation of any autonomous vehicle. Industry analysts have long maintained that the largest barrier to the arrival of economically viable self-driving vehicles was the cost of terrain mapping technologies. With the news of VLP-16’s price cut, autonomous vehicles could dominate our streets in the near near-future.
While fans of the popular Netflix series Black Mirror, which last month depicted a grim future where drones use LIDAR to hunt the few surviving humans, may be made uneasy by the news, such fears are likely unfounded. In fact the use of LIDAR in autonomous automobiles will likely save lives. Unlike our eyes, LIDAR systems do not have blind-spots—nor hallucinations.
Velodyne is not the only company resting its hopes for success in producing inexpensive LIDAR arrays. In 2016, General Motors purchased Strobe, another LIDAR manufacturer, with the goal of making LIDAR systems economically viable in cars of future generations—from Chrysler to Cadillac.