|Discerning a butterfly from a broken tire at 70 MPH.|
Velodyne, one of the leading manufacturers of laser sensor for self driving cars, made an announcement this morning that it hopes will push things to the next level. The company released details of its latest product, the VLS-128. It’s the most powerful LIDAR the company has ever created, with twice the range and three times the resolution of its predecessor. “This product was designed and built for the level 5, fully autonomous, mobility as a service market,” says Anand Gopalan, the company’s CTO, meaning it can perform as well or better than a human under any circumstances.
|On the bottom, the view from Velodyne's HDL-64. On top, the more detailed view of the VLS-128.|
Gopalan says that the 128 can handle this sort of edge case. It’s 300 meter range and incredible detail are one part of the equation. But it also works for tricky scenarios like tire debris because it allows an autonomous driving system to take fewer steps between seeing the world and deciding what to do. “With lower-resolution LIDAR you would need to somehow fuse the data with cameras and do some processing to create something that can be understood by the computer,” he tells The Verge. “You now have such a high-resolution image, you can take the data and put it directly into an image classification algorithm. It reduces complexity and time.”
Of course, Velodyne doesn’t compete directly with either of these companies. Its LIDAR system is a complement to the chips sold by companies like Nvidia. And while some automakers are working on building their own LIDAR in house, most are turning to suppliers like Velodyne as they look to build driverless car services that would compete with the likes of Waymo and Uber.
Velodyne says that it managed to add more range and resolution to its latest unit, while simultaneously reducing the size, weight, and power consumption. For now, however, it’s staying mum on the price. In fact, says founder and CEO David Hall, price isn’t really the point. “We took a cost is no issue approach with this thing,” says Hall. “The mobility-as-a-service customer would just as soon have a higher end LIDAR. The costs aren’t that high, when compared to the value of not having a driver.”