Silicon Valley Execs Believe Driverless Vehicles Will Cost a Lot of Money

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【Summary】CEO of LiDAR supplier Luminar states that fully-autonomous vehicles will cost “hundreds of thousands” of dollars.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Aug 03, 2017 9:30 AM PT
Silicon Valley Execs Believe Driverless Vehicles Will Cost a Lot of Money

Automakers and technology companies are aiming to release their self-driving vehicles in a few years. BMW, for example, set a date of 2021, which is just four years away, as the date to release a Level 5 autonomous vehicle. Honda on the other hand, is playing it more conservatively with an expected date of 2025 for the release of its fully-autonomous vehicle. 

While self-driving vehicles are expected to reduce the amount of accidents, automotive-related fatalities, and congestion, there's one major downside that everyone's overlooking. And that's the cost of car. 

Supercar-Pricing For Self-Driving Tech

According to a report by Axios, Austin Russell, CEO of Luminar, a LiDAR startup in Silicon Valley, believes that the first generation of fully-autonomous vehicles will cost between $300,000 to $400,000 apiece. Russell, a 22-year-old, is currently working on an improved version of LiDAR for driverless cars. The startup, as we reported earlier, has been working on its LiDAR system for the past five years and recently raised $36 million in seed-stage funding. 

Instead of those bulky roof-mounted LiDAR systems that other automakers and tech companies are utilizing at the moment, Luminar's system is much smaller and each individual unit offers a 120-degree view of the car's surroundings.  

While that sounds like LiDAR systems are improving, Russell, in the interview with Axios blames the same technology as one of the reasons why the first generation of self-driving vehicles will cost a lot of money. According to him, upgrading LiDAR to the point where the system is safe and predictable doesn't exist at the moment. And when it does come out, Russell believes the major players, like General Motors, Uber, and Lyft will get it first. 

"People think that they'll go and buy autonomous cars," Russell told Axios. "That's not going to reflect reality." LiDAR, a necessary system for self-driving vehicles, hasn't advanced to the necessary level yet, as Russell claims the technology hasn't advanced to the required level yet. 

LiDAR Systems Still Have A Long Way To Go

Another major issue with current LiDAR systems involve the fact that they have a "critical failure rate," which relates to how often the systems fail to detect an object every time over a certain distance. At the moment, LiDAR systems currently have a critical failure rate of one in 1,000 miles. Russell believes that the figure needs to drop to one error every 5 million miles to be acceptable for use on public roads. Clearly, that's still a long way away. 

Automakers and tech companies, according to Russell, should be focusing on making LiDAR systems more reliable, but they're worrying about bringing prices down instead. The CEO claims that companies are focusing on ways to bring the price of LiDAR down to $1,000 or even $100 per system, so that the tech can be adopted by the masses. Current LiDAR systems, like the ones Velodyne makes, cost roughly $80,000 each. That's a large amount of money for a piece of tech. But Russell claims that when the technology is perfected, prices will skyrocket to $300,000 to $400,000, which will make it an exclusive thing for large companies. 

At that price, only companies with plans to use autonomous cars for ride-hailing and ride-sharing purposes can afford LiDAR systems, making the transition to a completely autonomous future one that will likely push the clock back on when it will happen. Driverless cars are still on the way, but the chances of them coming out in the near future is becoming less likely. 

via: Axios

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