LiDAR gets ready for automotive mass-market – An interview with Velodyne

Along with electric vehicles, autonomous driving is the next big thing for the automotive industry. Part of this revolution is Light Detection And Ranging, better known as LiDAR, a sensing technology measuring distances using laser beam pulses.

Autonomous driving started in the first Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge, which took place in March 2004. In 2005, David Hall, the founder of Velodyne LiDAR, participated in the second Grand Challenge. Hall introduced his own invention to autonomous driving: A 3D real-time LiDAR capable of measuring how far away objects are across the full 360° of the surrounding environment in real-time.

Since then, Velodyne has become the champion of real-time LiDAR, with its systems involved in almost all autonomous driving projects. They also can be found on flying taxis, or in industrial and scientific applications, which include drones, mapping, advanced robots, mining trucks, archeology, smart buildings, and security.

Yole Développment expects autonomous driving to have a huge impact on LiDAR technology and the related industry, as described in our recently published report: “LiDAR for Automotive and Industrial Applications 2019”.

2018-2024 LiDAR market forecast by application - Yole Développement

Today, Alexis Debray and Pierrick Boulay, Market and Technolgy Analysts for Yole Développement have the chance to discuss with Marta Hall, President of Business Development and Chief Creative Officer of Velodyne, to better understand what the current status is in this revolution in autonomous driving and LiDAR, and what the future of Velodyne will hold.

Alexis Debray (AD): Can you please introduce Velodyne?

Marta Hall (MH): Velodyne provides the smartest, most powerful LiDAR solutions for autonomy and driver assistance. Founded in 1983 and headquartered in San Jose, California, Velodyne is known worldwide for its portfolio of breakthrough LiDAR sensor technologies. In 2005, Velodyne’s Founder and CEO, David Hall, invented real-time surround view LiDAR systems, revolutionizing perception and autonomy for automotive, new mobility, mapping, robotics, and security. Velodyne’s high-performance product line includes a broad range of sensing solutions, including the cost-effective Puck™, the versatile Ultra Puck™, the perfect for level 4-level 5 autonomy Alpha Puck™, the ultra-wide angle VelaDome™, the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS)-optimized Velarray™, and the groundbreaking software for driver assistance, Vella™.

Pierrick Boulay (PB): Can you briefly present Velodyne’s LiDAR technology?

MH: As the world leader in LiDAR, Velodyne’s sensors boast an unmatched combination of long range, high resolution, and wide field of view. The result is a clear and detailed image of the surroundings that enables reliable and safe navigation.

A LiDAR sensor bounces laser pulses off an object, like a tree, at an enormously high rate – millions of laser pulses each second – and measures how long the light from the laser takes to reflect from the object to a light detector. The amazing thing about LiDAR technology is this process works for nonstationary objects in real-time, such as pedestrians, bicyclists, and other cars.

Alpha Puck™ - Velodyne
Alpha Puck™ – Courtesy of Velodyne

Based on the time of flight, the distance to an object is calculated by the LiDAR device in real-time, and the millions of data points are used to generate a point cloud, which is a complex “map” of the surroundings that includes measurements of how far away objects are from the vehicle. This process is kind of like spraying paint all over a surrounding environment in order to highlight objects, make them recognizable, and show movement.

A robust LiDAR has between eight and 128 laser beams to measure a car’s surroundings. In surround-view sensors, the laser beams cover 360 degrees to completely see around a vehicle – something not possible for a human driver. That means typical issues that may cause collisions for drivers, such as blind spots or wide-angle hazards, will be nonexistent in self-driving cars.
LiDAR is able to accurately identify objects at up to 300 meters distance. It is critical that an autonomous vehicle can recognize a paper bag blowing across the roadway versus a small child in order to make accurate split-second decisions.

Fully autonomous cars represent an enormous technological leap beyond today’s vehicles. LiDAR is the essential sensing technology needed to operate autonomous cars safely.

AD: In late 2018, Velodyne and Nikon announced a collaboration. What will this collaboration provide in the future?

MH: Specifics will be public in six months. We can share that this initiative aims to combine Nikon’s optical and precision technologies with Velodyne’s LiDAR sensor technology. Both companies have begun investigating a wide-ranging, multifaceted business alliance, including collaboration in technology development and manufacturing. Velodyne believes the relationship will advance the timeline for manufacturing and mass production of LiDAR for the autonomous and advanced safety global market. The companies share a futuristic vision of advanced perception technology for a wide range of applications including robotics, mapping, security, shuttles, drones, and safety on roadways.

Alpha Puck™ - Point Cloud - Velodyne
Alpha Puck™ – Point Cloud – Courtesy of Velodyne

PB: Velodyne succeeded in reducing the size of LiDARs, with 128 lasers now embedded in the Alpha Puck. How did you achieve this? Have we reached the minimum size with mechanical scanning, and should we use another technology like MEMS to further decrease LiDAR size?

MH: This is proprietary information. We are extremely proud of our leadership and breakthroughs in LiDAR technology, and we will continue to innovate, including in the areas of size. Our portfolio of LiDAR solutions, which is ever-expanding, will meet the all of the LiDAR market needs.

AD: In January 2019, Velodyne and Veoneer announced a collaboration. What do you expect from this relationship?

MH: This collaboration will result in millions of units produced and manufacturing cost coming down, along with a contract with a major automotive OEM. Veoneer is developing and commercializing the next generation of LiDAR systems for automotive applications using Velodyne’s scalable auto-grade LiDAR sensor, core 3D software technology and proprietary LiDAR Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) engine. Both companies will contribute key components, technologies, know-how and other intellectual property needed to optimize a next generation of affordable, high performance LiDARs for the automotive market.

Front-Top - Blue Lens - Velodyne
Front-Top – Blue Lens – Courtesy of Velodyne

PB: Which OEM will be the first to profit from this partnership? Are traffic jams expected to be the main use case of this autonomous feature or do you expect other use cases for ADAS level 3 vehicles?

MH: We cannot comment on our customers or OEM profitability. Our LiDAR sensors will improve ADAS features, including Lane Keep Assistance (LKA), Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) and Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), and Blind Spot Monitoring. Our LiDAR solutions will be applicable for all levels of ADAS and autonomy, advancing safety in the roadways.

AD: What is the most important bottleneck for automotive LiDAR today and how can it be solved?

MH: Producing automotive-grade sensors at scale is the industry’s top challenge. Velodyne is leading the market in addressing this need. Velodyne created the world’s first in-house automated manufacturing processes to produce automotive-grade LiDAR products at scale. Velodyne’s manufacturing operations include a 200,000 square foot megafactory in San Jose, California, where highly-automated robotic assembly techniques are utilized to build a range of sensors. Invented by Velodyne, these revolutionary manufacturing systems form the foundation of the company’s mass production capabilities. Velodyne is also scaling production by licensing core LiDAR technology to Tier 1 supplier Veoneer for a long-term, high-volume manufacturing agreement with a global automaker.

PB: We are now hearing lots about industrial applications of LiDAR. How do you see this application evolving?

MH: Velodyne’s sensors are used in a myriad of new technologies in industrial applications, providing safety and efficiency in agriculture, construction, logging, maritime, mining, pipeline inspection, and railway. LiDAR helps these systems navigate within natural environments by performing collision avoidance, object profiling, and identification. This enables them to better understand both the physical environment they are operating in and changes in their surroundings such as moving people and objects. These new industrial systems will thrive only if they can be reliably reproduced. Therefore, the systems must be designed with commercially available components that are easy to source and can be purchased in volume. Velodyne’s real-time 3D LiDAR sensors are built with widely available 905nm lasers and avalanche photodiodes. The established breadth and scale of the supply base for Velodyne’s 905nm LiDAR components are at least one order of magnitude larger than those utilized in other types of LiDAR technology. Many of the board- and chip-level electronic components are Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) which helps to reduce price and lead-times on both new sensors and Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) repairs.

AD: Today, Velodyne is the uncontested leader in 3D real-time LiDAR. How will your company remain at the top?

MH: Velodyne is the highest-volume supplier of LiDAR sensors to the automotive industry with more than 250 customers globally. Our robust solution portfolio meets the entire range of LiDAR needs for autonomy and driver assistance – and we are committed to driving innovation to strengthen this leadership position. David Hall first deployed vehicle software in 2004 as part of the DARPA Challenges. Over the last 15 years, we have continued to add intelligence to our sensors, enabling a variety of LiDAR sensing capabilities that allow our customers to detect more objects and offer cars a more detailed view of their surroundings. For example, recently at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2019, we unveiled VelaDome™, a compact embeddable LiDAR that provides an ultra-wide 180° x 180° image for near-object avoidance, and Vella™, breakthrough software, which was developed in close collaboration with our LiDAR hardware experts, that will enable a seamlessly integrated ADAS solution powered by our LiDARs.

PB: How do you see the LiDAR industry over the next 10 years?

MH: LiDAR’s continued technological innovation and production at scale advance vehicle autonomy and driver assistance will continue to be a major industry focus in coming years. Like most technologies, LiDAR in automotive will evolve to three major suppliers. Velodyne will definitely be one of the three suppliers. The other two are still to be determined.
Velodyne is also investigating what are the next big areas to tackle with our LiDAR innovation. Keep an eye on LiDAR in trucking, smart cities, augmented reality, and security.


Marta Hall - Velodyne

Marta Thoma Hall is President & Chief Business Development Officer of Velodyne LiDAR Inc. at Velodyne LiDAR Inc. Marta Hall was President of Velodyne Acoustics starting in 2008 when the LiDAR business was in its infancy, just beginning to sell into the 3D mapping market and to Caterpillar and Google for navigation and autonomy. Marta helped build and manage the LiDAR business with CEO, David Hall, as it grew from 85 employees to 600 employees on three sites. Currently, Velodyne sensors have been installed in thousands of vehicles around the world, traveling millions of real-world miles. Velodyne is the industry standard for localization and environmental perception, providing the core technology for dozens of autonomous vehicle programs in over 10 countries. More here.


Alexis Debray - Yole Développement

Alexis Debray, PhD is a Technology & Market Analyst, Optoelectronics at Yole Développement (Yole). As a member of the Photonics, Sensing & Display division, Alexis is today engaged in the development of technology & market reports as well as the production of custom consulting projects dedicated to the imaging industry. After spending 2 years at the University of Tokyo to develop an expertise focused on MEMS technologies, Alexis served as a research engineer at Canon Inc. During 15 years he contributed to numerous projects of development, focused on MEMS devices, lingual prehension, and terahertz imaging devices. Alexis is the author of various scientific publications and patents. He graduated from ENSICAEN and holds a PhD in applied acoustics.

Pierrick Boulay - Yole Développement

As part of the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement (Yole), Pierrick Boulay works as Market and Technology Analyst in the fields of LED, OLED and Lighting Systems to carry out technical, economic and marketing analysis. He has experience in both LED lighting (general lighting, automotive lighting…) and OLED lighting. In the past, he has mostly worked in R&D department for LED lighting applications. Pierrick holds a master degree in Electronics (ESEO – France).

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Related event

Background LiDAR Auto Forum Yole CIOE 2019

2nd Executive Forum on LiDAR for Automotive
Sept 5 AM, 2019 – Shenzhen, China – Alongside the 21st CIOE
LiDAR is en route to mass production for the automotive market

After a successful first edition, Yole Développement is proud to collaborate once again with the China International Optoelectronic Expo (CIOE) to organize the Second Executive Forum on LiDAR for Automotive. This event presents applications and technologies within the LiDAR industry, and more specifically, automotive-oriented solutions.