LiDAR Industry Hits Impasse: Was Elon Musk Right After All?

At this spring’s Tesla Autonomy Investor Day event, Elon Musk once again dissed the “fools” relying on LiDAR for self-driving vehicle development …

At this spring’s Tesla Autonomy Investor Day event, Elon Musk once again dissed the “fools” relying on LiDAR for self-driving vehicle development — prompting the hashtag “LiDAR” to trend globally on Twitter.

Computer vision and hardware engineers and researchers are familiar with the hackneyed LiDAR debate. Although Light Detection and Ranging has proven its reliability and accurate ranging capabilities, the hardware’s size and cost of some US$10,000 per unit are huge obstacles to its mass commercialization.

The technical question is whether to wait 10 or more years for computer vision research to solve the ranging problem or for cheap LiDARs to hit the market. However, since the business mindset is to focus on short-term feasible technologies, the lack of serious buyers is the real problem for the LiDAR industry.

Defending Doubts from Buyers and Partners

A number of startups launched solid-state LiDARs in 2016-2017, optimistic that unit prices would drop to hundreds of dollars with mass production. Finding bulk buyers to drive demand has however been difficult.

In order to survive, LiDAR companies need to either secure orders from L4 autopilot teams or integrate with auto manufacturers’ supply chains. The L4 research teams can only support a few LiDAR makers, while most traditional auto makers have yet to embrace the tech — a notable exception being the Audi A8’s use of the discreet Valeo SCALA.

Top tier auto parts suppliers such as Bosch, Aptiv, ZFAuto part manufacturers have not exactly embraced the commercialization of L3/L4 self-driving tech such as pricey LiDARs. At the Shanghai Auto Show this April a Bosch rep explained, “Probably by 2020, we will have more than 40 models installing L2 systems, but L3, not in the near future.”

NVIDIA DRIVE Xavier, ZF’s new ProAI car computer and Baidu’s Apollo Pilot project launched at CES last year

Small autonomous driving startups, who used to partner with LiDAR companies at auto shows, are resetting their agendas. Some are using pre-equipped vehicles or testing other tech products, while many have left the industry altogether. A startup rep told us “car manufacturers are considering many promising sensors for mass production targeting the year 2021… unfortunately, LiDAR is not on the list.”

LiDAR manufacturers have not given up — one developer told Synced that “people who believe in pure computer vision are fools… I’m certain that by 2021 LiDAR can enter mass production because the only barrier now is regulations. After that’s solved, LiDARs will be equipped on green-energy or high-end cars, which will reduce the fraction cost, since retail price of these cars is US$40,000 and above.”

Companies and Their Over-Marketing Problems

As the academic and industry debates continue, one LiDAR poster child is being criticized for over-marketing.

Founded in 2012, LiDAR unicorn Quanergy has completed five rounds of financing totaling more than US$100 million for its solid-state LiDARs. In 2018 however Bloomberg published a feature story, How a Billion-Dollar Autonomous Vehicle Startup Lost Its Way, detailing Quanergy’s technical stasis.

For example, although the startup strove to produce LiDAR products on a strict schedule, some insiders claim the products were not as good as advertised, and that no solid-state equipment meeting Quanergy requirements has yet come off the company’s assembly line.

In addition, the mechanical LiDAR prototype M8, introduced in 2016, was roundly returned by customers. Meanwhile, Quanergy has begun to shift its tech focus away from LiDAR, with plans for example to help develop President Donald Trump’s digital Mexican border wall.

Quanergy is not the only company running into problems. An engineer working on L4 autopilot technology told Synced “testing early products of global LiDAR companies reveals big differences between advertised accuracy, vulnerability, product life, and detection range and the real world performance of the products.”

It was an open secret a couple of years ago that many solid-state LiDAR products at high-profile launch events were actually usable, and only mounted atop cars for show.

Only a Few Companies Will Survive the Winter

Global LiDAR ecosystem April 2018 (from Woodside Capital Partners)

The year 2013 saw breakthroughs for LiDAR companies. Quanergy Systems, favoured by the capital market for several years, completed its seed round financing; TriLumina, which provides lighting solutions for the industrial sector, reached out to the automotive field; and close to a hundred companies crammed into the promising market subsection.

By 2019 however market activity had subsided. Now, investors are putting their money into just a few companies. Innoviz, Ouster, and Luminar are among those who have pocketed tens to hundreds of millions in financing rounds.

Moving forward, it is natural that only those LiDAR companies that can garner buyer support will survive. And what will become of the others? “We are not talking about accelerating mergers and acquisitions, but companies dying in this field,” an industry insider tells Synced. “It’s not that the big guys are necessarily better, it’s just that the others are all gone.”

Source: Synced China


Localization: Meghan Han | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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Self-driving tech startup Voyage Auto raises $31 million in funding

The investment round was led by Franklin Templeton, with significant participation from Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures, and …

A self-driving technology startup called Voyage Auto has raised $31 million in Series B funding.

The investment round was led by Franklin Templeton, with significant participation from Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures, and Chevron Technology Ventures.

The latest funding round brings Voyage Auto’s total capital raised to $52 million.

Voyage says its mission is to deliver on the promise of self-driving cars, adding it will “deliver an autonomous ride-hailing service to customers who truly need it”.

Voyage says it be utilizing the new capital to ready its self-driving technology for commercialization, grow its team of self-driving experts, expand its fleet of G2 self-driving cars in California and Florida, and introduce the company’s G3 self-driving car.

Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, says: “Chevron has been supporting the public’s transportation needs for over 100 years.

“As our customers’ mobility needs and preferences change, we want to continue to be part of their journeys. Our investment in Voyage affirms this commitment.

“We established the Future Energy Fund in 2018 with an initial commitment of $100 million to invest in breakthrough technologies that enable the ongoing energy transition.

“The fund looks for technologies that lower emissions and support low carbon value chains. Our investment in Voyage fits well within the objectives of the Future Energy Fund while also informing our perspective on the changing energy landscape.”

Like many self-driving car projects, Voyager began with a simply retrofitted common car – the Ford Fusion – which Voyager named the G1.

The next stage was the introduction of the G2 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan.

The company is planning to choose another car as its “G3” development platform.

One of Voyager’s early investors was Jaguar Land Rover.

Sebastian Peck, managing director of Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures, says: “Since investing in the company’s Series A in 2018, it’s been fantastic to watch the business go from strength to strength.

“The company has made some incredible hires which have been instrumental in enabling the development of Voyage’s state-of-the-art technology.

“We’re excited to continue working with Oliver Cameron and his world-class team at Voyage.

“They’ve shown us that they have the capability to quickly make self-driving, autonomous taxis in residential communities a reality, sooner than anyone would have thought.”

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Silicon Valley-based Voyage Raises $31 Million in Latest Funding Round

The latest funding round was led by Franklin Templeton, with significant participation from Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures, …
Silicon Valley-based Voyage Raises $31 Million in Latest Funding Round

author: Eric Walz

Autonomous driving startup Voyage has announced a $31 million Series B funding round. The latest funding round was led by Franklin Templeton, with significant participation from Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures, and Chevron Technology Ventures. The new funding bring to total amount raised by Voyage to $52 million.

Voyage spun out of online learing platform Udacity in 2017 and its co-founder is Oliver Cameron, who serves as the company’s CEO. Cameron led the development of Udacity’s self-driving car course and worked closely with Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google self-driving car program.

We’re excited to continue working with Oliver Cameron and his world-class team at Voyage. They’ve shown us that they have the capability to quickly make self-driving, autonomous taxis in residential communities a reality, sooner than anyone would have thought.” said Sebastian Peck, Managing Director of Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures in a statement.

While most of the industry to focused on deploying self-driving cars in urban settings, Palo Alto-based Voyage is targeting retirement communities with its on-demand ride-hailing service using a fleet of autonomous vehicles.

Voyage is currently testing and refining its technology in central Florida at The Villages, the nation’s largest 55 and over retirement community. According to U.S. Census data released in March 2018, The Villages was the 10th in the annual list of fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States with over 125,000 residents.

Voyage is also operating at The Villages in San Jose, California, offering its on-demand transportation service to 4,000 residents. The San Jose community is Voyage’s first commercial partner.

Operating in private communities like The Villages allows Voyage to collect valuable driving data and improve and refine its autonomous driving technology in a much safer and more controlled environment than a busy city street.

At the same time, Voyage is also providing a valuable service to older residents of the communities, many of whom cannot not drive due to physical limitations. Village residents can summon a ride within the community with an easy to use iPhone app.

The Villages is also a gated community, with limited traffic and other obstacles a self-driving car must learn to deal with if operating in an urban setting. Many residents get around using only golf carts. Speed limit within the community is 25 mph, making it a safer place for Voyage perfect its self-driving vehicles before rolling them out at scale.

Voyage’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which are the same model Waymo uses, are outfitted with a suite of senors, including cameras, lidar and radar to operate autonomously. Right now there is safety driver behind the wheel to monitor the vehicle. The driver assists passengers with getting into and out of the vehicle, if needed.

Cameron wrote in a blog post that over the past two years Voyage’s engineering team has made significant improvements in its autonomous vehicle software, including transitioning to a safety-critical and certifiable middleware. The company says its new prediction engine has over an 10x performance increase to detect objects such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Voyage also said it creating triple redundancy in its perception system for fail-safe operation. The perception system serves as the “eyes” of the vehicles and refining it for the highest degree of safety is top priority for the team at Voyage.

The company’s prediction engine uses a combination of advanced probability models, high-definition maps, and time-based behavior models to predict what’s happening around its vehicles.

Voyage said it will use the new funds to ready its self-driving technology for commercialization, grow its team of self-driving experts and expand its fleet of self-driving vehicles in California and Florida. Voyage plans an eventual expansion outside of these of gated communities into more complex environments.

Voyage is one of the most promising new startups coming out of Silicon Valley. Last year, Cameron was recognized by Forbes in its annual 30 Under 30 list, chronicling the most innovative entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada. The company has also made some high-profile hires as it grows.

In June 2018, Voyage announced it hired engineer Drew Gray as its new CTO and Director of Autonomy. Gray worked as engineering director at Uber ATG, as well as stints at Otto, Cruise and Tesla. The company also brought onboard Davide Bacchet from Tesla where he worked on the company’s Autopilot. Bacchet also worked on autonomous driving at EV startup NIO.

Voyage said it increased its total headcount by 300% since its first Series A in Jan 2018.

In a blog post on Medium, Cameron wrote “Our mission is to deliver on the promise of self-driving cars, and we are thrilled to be working with forward-thinking investors who deeply believe in that mission. Together with these new resources, we will deliver an autonomous ride-hailing service to customers who truly need it.”

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Robotaxis: Voyage versus Ford, Waymo, and Tesla

Franklin Templeton led the round, followed by Khosla Ventures, InMotion Ventures (Jaguar Land Rover’s venture capital fund), and Chevron …

Autonomous ride-sharing startup Voyage has raised about $31 million in the Series B round, according to its press release. Franklin Templeton led the round, followed by Khosla Ventures, InMotion Ventures (Jaguar Land Rover’s venture capital fund), and Chevron Technology Ventures, Chevron’s (CVX) venture capital arm. This round brings Voyage’s total funding to $52 million to date. The company plans to use the funds to expand its fleet size and team.

Voyage’s robotaxi foray

Voyage, which started its journey in 2017, aims at providing a robotaxi service to commuters. Currently, it’s operating in retirement zones in California and Florida. It has a multiyear exclusive license to operate self-driving ride-sharing vehicles in The Villages in Florida. The Villages is the largest retirement community in the world. It’s spread over 32 square miles and is home to about 78 villages housing around 100–1,550 homes.

These kinds of retirement communities suit the Voyage robotaxi service. The company’s autonomous vehicles operate within a speed limit of 25 miles per hour, which resonates with the calmer pace of the retirement world.

Voyage has come a long way from its first-generation (or G1) autonomous vehicles, which it called Homer. Voyage’s G1 robotaxis was based on Ford Fusion and required a test driver. However, the advanced technology used in G2 has taken Voyage a step forward, and it’s now launching a completely driverless vehicle.

The company’s current fleet, known as G2, is based on the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan. The vehicle uses LiDAR technology to understand complex traffic conditions. G2 also uses best-in-class sensor vision and safety systems. Though Tesla isn’t in favor of using LiDAR technology, Ford, Waymo, and General Motors have invested heavily in it.

With the latest round of funding, Voyage plans to expand its reach within and outside the retirement community. The company is also working on the next version of its autonomous vehicle, the G3.

Robotaxi competitors

Voyage’s run from startup to expansion seems quite impressive. Though the funds raised by the company are lower than the investments made by leading automakers, Voyage is growing fast. In the autonomous ride-sharing industry, Alphabet’s (GOOGL) (GOOG) Waymo, Ford (F), and Tesla (TSLA) are making huge investments in commercial launches.

Alphabet’s Waymo: A major robotaxi player

Waymo is on its way toward the commercial launch of robotaxis. The company is already operating its service in two cities: Phoenix and Silicon Valley. In Phoenix, some rides are charged, while in Silicon Valley, the service is run for employees. Within the past couple of months, the robotaxis have completed 10,500 trips, 70% of which have received five-star ratings.

Further, Waymo has a strategic alliance with Land Rover Jaguar to design and produce an autonomous fleet of Jaguar I‑PACE vehicles. The duo expects as many as 20,000 I-Pace vehicles to be part of Waymo’s ride-sharing autonomous network in the first two years of its production. To learn more, read Alphabet’s Waymo Is Planning Massive Expansion of Taxi Service.

Ford is making its way

Ford is investing heavily in becoming a leader in the autonomous vehicle segment. The company, along with Volkswagen, has invested in Argo AI for research and development of autonomous vehicles. It plans to launch its self-driving cars by 2021.

Ford believes that the transportation industry is evolving fast, and robotaxis could bring in a new age of growth. The company plans to tap this opportunity with Ford Smart Mobility. Jim Hackett, president and CEO of Ford, said, “Transportation in the world today is on the cusp of a major revolution, and Ford plans to lead the way by changing the way the world moves through Ford Smart Mobility.”

Robotaxis by Tesla

Another mainstream player, Tesla, is all set to launch its fleet of robotaxis by 2020. It will initially offer its Model 3 for the robotaxi service. Tesla is also planning to launch Tesla Network, which will allow owners to place their autonomous vehicles as robotaxis.

Tesla Network, an innovative concept, could change the way the transportation sector works. Moreover, customers will look at car ownership from a different perspective. Some might not want to own a car at all due to the availability of robotaxis. However, others could own a vehicle for the earnings opportunity (which Tesla puts at about $30,000 per year).

Tesla’s car will come with a next-generation battery, which will be good for about 1 million miles. These cars will require minimal maintenance and have a competitive operating cost. The company expects its robotaxis to run at a cost of about $0.18 per mile, much lower than major ride-sharing companies.

Apple is still keeping its project a secret

Apple (AAPL) isn’t far behind in the race. It’s acquired Drive.ai for its hush-hush autonomous car project. Recently, it tested its self-driving car in Cupertino for its sensors. The company has been pretty quiet on its autonomous car progress, but it’s testing more and more self-driving cars.

Overall

Voyage is quite small compared to the behemoths in the industry, but it’s seeing impressive growth. It does plan to expand outside the retirement community, but it will need time to reach cities (considering its long path to commercialization in urban areas). Plus, in the next couple of years, leading automakers may have launched robotaxi networks. The company will likely need more time to grow in order to compete with the heavyweights.

To learn more, read Autonomous Cars: Ford and Tesla Have Big Plans.

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    Transportation Roundup: Last Day Set For Downtown Shuttle

    Available now for IOS and Android, the app is designed to combine some of the convenience of Uber and Lyft with the security of traditional taxi …

    The end is near for the Smart Circuit, the driverless shuttle that has been operating in Downtown Columbus since last December. Jennifer Fening, a spokesperson for Smart Columbus, said that the contract with the shuttle’s operator – May Mobility – is nearly up, and that the last day to take a ride on one of the five-passenger vehicles will be September 27.

    “The shuttle has welcomed more than 15,000 riders and has given our team real-world experience applying self-driving vehicle technology,” said Fening. “Our many learnings from this demonstration have helped to inform operation of the self-driving shuttle that Smart Columbus will launch in Lindenlate this year.”

    In other transportation news:

    An Irish startup has chosen Columbus as the launch city for its WINIcabs app. Available now for iOS and Android, the app is designed to combine some of the convenience of Uber and Lyft with the security of traditional taxi operators. As a press release states, it “combines Columbus’ taxi fleets under one app, putting the city’s extensive network of licensed, background-checked drivers at riders’ fingertips.”

    All Aboard Ohio is holding its fall meeting on September 28 in Columbus. Representatives of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, the Ohio Rail Development Commission, Transit Columbus and others will be on hand to discuss the latest developments in the rail and transit world.

    Age-Friendly Columbus recently announced the launch of a multi-faceted approach to improving mobility for seniors. One element of the program is a new, a free transit option called the Hilltop Circulator, which will offer rides to a range of locations, including the Hilltop YMCA, the Hilltop library branch, Westgate Recreation Center and Walgreens Pharmacy. Another circulator is planned for the Clintonville area.

    A new program designed to provide affordable late night transportation for Ohio State students launched in August. Called Lyft Ride Smart, the program offers five dollar discounts (paid by OSU) on Lyft rides booked between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. The rides need to be within a designated service area (which consists of the neighborhoods surrounding campus), and to be eligible, students must select “shared ride” in the Lyft app. A limit of 10,000 discounted rides per month will by provided by OSU.

    The advocacy organization America Walks is bringing its National Walking Summit to Columbus on September 24. Called Places for People, the event is also sponsored by MORPC and will feature local and national speakers. MORPC’s annual Summit on Sustainability takes place on October 11.

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