Jun 2, 2017

Making Lidar cheaper

How Lidar "sees." Photo/Velodyne

Lidar — the contraption on top of self-driving test vehicles that uses lasers to "see" — costs a ton of money: around $85,000. The full bill for other sensors, cameras, radar etc. required for future hands-off driving can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus the price of the car itself.

Mike Jellen, president of Velodyne, a key maker of Lidar equipment, claims the price will plummet under $10,000 once self-driving cars are selling in the hundreds of thousands or millions. The issue of Lidar's cost "is all marketing hype for new entrants," Jellen told Axios.

Why it matters: This is part of a technological war over the development of sensors, the winner of which could reap hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue if the world does turn to self-driving vehicles en-masse, as many analysts predict. The losers? Primarily, the millions of professional truck and taxi drivers around the world who may be shoved out of work.

In championing his core product, Jellen is defending himself, among others, against Tesla's CEO Elon Musk, who — all-but alone among carmakers — has spurned Lidar. Instead, Musk's "Vision" system relies on currently much cheaper cameras.

Demand is an important unknown: It's easy to imagine consumers wanting cars that can park themselves, keep them safely within the lanes on high-speed freeways, and — if they happen to be handicapped or elderly — get them where they need to go without touching the steering wheel. What no one knows is how much they are willing to pay on top of the sticker price for such features.

  • Analysts forecasting ubiquitous robot cars in a matter of years seem to suggest that the added cost will be marginal, but a lesson that price can make a huge difference is electric cars, whose failure to yet catch on as a mass market product is often blamed on their higher cost compared with conventional-drive vehicles.
  • But Jellen says cost isn't an impediment for a self-driving market. Instead, he says, it's about getting the software right. He says Lidar hardware is already well advanced but that the software — the programming that accounts for virtually any driving happenstance - is not ready and validated by testing.
  • In fact, no one knows what Lidar will cost at scale -- the jump from $85,000 to the single-digit thousands is a lot.

Who will see robot cars first? The initial market for self-driving cars will be companies offering "mobility as a service," Jellen says. That's a buzzword that includes Uber, Lyft and carmakers that are testing their own versions of shared transportation.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1:30 p.m. ET: 1,506,936 — Total deaths: 90,057 — Total recoveries: 340,112Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 1:30 p.m. ET: 432,596 — Total deaths: 14,831 — Total recoveries: 24,235Map.
  3. Business latest: The Fed will lend up to $2.3 trillion for businesses, state and city governments — Another 6.6 million jobless claims were filed last week.
  4. Federal government latest: President Trump is preparing to launch a second coronavirus task force focused on reviving the U.S. economy.
  5. Public health latest: Dr. Anthony Fauci said social distancing could reduce the U.S. death toll to 60,000.
  6. States latest: New York's coronavirus death toll hits record high for third straight day.
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Trump plans second coronavirus task force focused on the economy

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump is preparing to launch a second coronavirus task force focused on reviving the U.S. economy, which has been battered by the coronavirus, two administration officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: There is growing energy within the West Wing to start easing people back to work by May 1. But some public health officials, including those on the coronavirus task force, have warned against doing so, raising concerns about reopening America too soon.

New York's coronavirus death toll hits record high for third straight day

799 people died from coronavirus in New York over the past 24 hours, a record high for the third straight day that brings the state's total death toll to 7,067.

Why it matters: Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference that social distancing is helping to "flatten the curve" of coronavirus hospitalizations and that deaths are a lagging indicator. Still, he called the death figures "shocking and painful," noting that the virus has killed more than double the number of people who died in New York on 9/11.

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