Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A big shakeout is coming among providers of a key autonomous vehicle technology: lidar sensors, where dozens of companies — estimates range from 50 to more than 100 — have popped up in recent years.

Why it matters: The startups all promise to deliver better technology to help self-driving cars see their environments. But deploying self-driving cars at scale has proven more challenging than the industry anticipated, and many companies will run out of steam before they find customers for their technology.

The big picture: In the gold rush that has characterized the race to autonomy, perhaps no underlying technology has attracted as much startup activity — or as much investment capital — as lidar.

  • Since 2015, lidar startups have raised $1.1 billion in funding, according to CB Insights, which tracks venture capital activity.
  • In 2018, a total of $324 million flowed into lidar companies across 26 deals, per CB.
  • Some lidar companies plan to keep riding the wave, with additional fundraising rounds likely this year, says Duncan Williams, partner at Greentech Capital Advisors in San Francisco.

Yes, but: Hardly any of these companies are shipping more than a handful of sensors to customers for testing, making it difficult to determine which companies can actually survive in the long run.

  • "That will just make the shakeout that much uglier," Williams says.

Background: Lidar, an acronym for "light detection and ranging," is seen as the most promising technique for AVs to sense the world around them, often in tandem with camera and radar sensors.

  • Lidar sensors work by firing off beams of laser light and then detecting objects by measuring how long it takes for the light to return to the sensor.
  • Most lidar systems are mounted to the roof of a car, like a giant spinning beanie hat, creating a 360-degree 3D view of the world around them.
  • Velodyne has long been the 800-pound gorilla in lidar, as detailed in Forbes, but now faces competition from all sides.
  • Many of the newcomers, including Innoviz and Quanergy, are working on solid-state lidar systems, which have fewer moving parts and are less expensive.
  • Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the size and cost of lidar systems while increasing the range and resolution to give AVs a clearer picture of their environment.

A reckoning is coming. AV developers have spent the past few years sampling a multitude of lidar systems in their vehicle test fleets, but decision time is nearing.

  • To meet expected targets for bringing their first self-driving cars to market by 2021 or 2022, manufacturers must commit to suppliers within the next 12–18 months, if not earlier.
  • Lidar firms that win production contracts will be able to use those revenues to keep their businesses going until AV volumes pick up 5–10 years from now.

The bottom line: Long term, the industry only needs 5–10 lidar suppliers, experts say. That means the majority of existing lidar startups won't make the cut.

Editor's note: This piece has been corrected to show Innoviz and Quanergy are working on solid-state lidar systems (not Luminar and Ouster, which are developing other types of lidar).

Go deeper

Coronavirus cases hit a seven-month low

Expand chart
Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Coronavirus infections in the U.S. are now at their lowest levels in seven months, thanks to the vaccines.

The big picture: The vaccines are turning the tide in America's battle with the coronavirus. Deaths and serious illnesses have dropped significantly, and now cases are falling too — an important piece of protection for the future, if we can keep it up.

2 hours ago - World

India sets new COVID world record as oxygen demand jumps seven-fold

COVID-19 patients being treated with free oxygen at a makeshift clinic in Indirapuram, Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo: Rebecca Conway/Getty Images

India has seen demand for oxygen jump "seven-fold" as the country set a new world record for daily COVID-19 cases on Thursday, per AP.

By the numbers: India's health ministry reported 412,262 new infections, taking the official tally past 21 million, and 3,980 deaths from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours. The official death toll now stands at 230,168. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher.

5 hours ago - World

U.K. sends patrol ships to British island amid fishing dispute with France

The HMS Tamar, one of the two ships deployed to Jersey. Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

The United Kingdom's government announced Wednesday it has deployed two Royal Navy patrol vessels to the island of Jersey "as a precautionary measure," as tensions over fishing rights escalate with France.

Why it matters: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement the government took the action to protect Jersey against potential threats of "a blockade" of French fishing boats at the island, which is off the coast of northwest France.