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December 1, 2017

New Lidar tech uses 128 lasers to help self-driving cars see in high resolution

by John_A

When it comes to autonomous vehicles, Lidar is one of the (no pun intended) driving forces that help make it all possible. A laser-based surveying method, Lidar builds up a depth-based image of the world by shining out laser lights and then measuring how long it takes for the reflected pulse to be bounced back to the sensor.

Well, thanks to the work of pioneering company Velodyne, Lidar just got a whole lot better!

Unveiled this week, Velodyne’s new VLS-128 sensor set a new record by doubling the number of laser beams on its previous top-of-the-line Lidar system to a massive 128, while shrinking the overall size of the sensor by 70 percent. By doing so, the $70,000 system promises to bring a crazy new level of resolution to the myriad applications that call for Lidar technology — from helping cars drive autonomously to mapping sites from the air.

“A 360-degree Lidar sensor such as the VLS-128 is optimal for keeping drivers and passengers safe in all situations,” Anand Gopalan, chief technology officer at Velodyne, told Digital Trends. “It provides the clearest view of both stationary and moving objects on or around the road, and in any direction around the vehicle. In addition, Velodyne’s Lidar sensors are capable of producing up to 3 million data points per second, with a range of up to 300 meters and accuracy [of around] 3 [centimeters].”

As can be seen from the above image, the new VLS-128’s resolution is considerably better than its (already highly competent) predecessor. When you factor in faster scanning and better algorithms, it’s anywhere from three to 10 times better than existing technology. In terms of what this means for its use in the real world, Velodyne suggests that it will sideline other sensors, such as cameras and radars, that are used by current autonomous vehicles. While those other sensors will almost certainly stay a part of the next generation of self-driving cars, there’s a good chance that they will be relegated simply to acting as backup devices.

“We are ramping production up now, and we expect to start providing engineering samples to key customers by the end of the year,” Gopalan said. “Production will be fully ramped up in early 2018.”

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