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Velodyne Announces its New Compact Velabit Lidar Sensor for Autonomous Applications

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【Summary】Silicon Valley-based lidar company Velodyne announced its new compact lidar sensor called the Velabit at CES this week. The new sensor is a low cost lidar for developers of self-driving vehicles and other autonomous machines. The company says it delivers robust performance on par with the company’s more expensive lidar sensors.

Eric Walz    Jan 09, 2020 4:35 PM PT
Velodyne Announces its New Compact Velabit Lidar Sensor for Autonomous Applications
The Velodyne Velabit lidar sensor.

Silicon Valley-based lidar company Velodyne announced its new compact lidar sensor called the Velabit at CES this week. The new sensor is a low cost lidar for developers of self-driving vehicles and other autonomous machines.

The Velabit is Velodyne's smallest sensor and is a more affordable and lightweight option for developers. Although the Velabit sensor is compact and inexpensive, the company says it delivers robust performance on par with the company's more expensive lidar sensors. 

This latest Velodyne lidar sensor advances the company's mission to make high-quality 3D lidar sensors accessible to startups working on self-driving cars and other autonomous technology. 

Velodyne is the highest volume supplier of lidar sensors to the automotive industry with more than 250 customers globally, according to the company. 

The high cost of lidar sensors is a barrier to many developers of self-driving vehicles and other automotive safety systems that rely on lidar. The lower-priced Velabit will help to address the demand for lower cost sensors, while also helping to accelerate the development of autonomous technologies.

"The Velabit democratizes lidar with its ultra-small form factor and its sensor pricing targeted at $100 in high-volume production, making 3D lidar available for all safety-critical applications," said Anand Gopalan, Chief Executive Officer, Velodyne Lidar. "Its combination of performance, size and price position the Velabit to drive a quantum leap in the number of lidar-powered applications. The sensor delivers what the industry has been seeking: a breakthrough innovation that can jump-start a new era of autonomous solutions on a global scale."

The word lidar is an acronym for "light detection and ranging." Lidar has become an essential sensor in the development of driverless cars. 

Lidar works by bouncing laser beams off objects and measuring the time it takes for the laser beams to reflect back to the sensor. This generates a lidar "point cloud" which can be used to create a 360 degree, 3D rendering of the environment, including objects.

For self-driving vehicles, lidar can be used to detect objects such as nearby vehicles, trees, buildings, pedestrians and bicyclists. When combined with perception software, cameras and radar, the lidar acts as the "eyes" of a self-driving vehicle.

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Velodyne CEO Anand Gopalan shows off the new Velabit lidar sensor at CES.

The Velabit is is well suited for use in Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) or autonomous vehicles. It enables robust perception coverage for blind-spot monitoring, cross traffic alert systems, automatic emergency braking (AEB), and detecting pedestrians. It has a range of 100 meters.

The Velabit can also be combined with other more powerful Velodyne lidar sensors for high-speed autonomous vehicles or function as a standalone lidar solution in low-speed applications.

The company said it was able to achieve a lower price point by leveraging its manufacturing partnerships for cost optimization and high-volume production. The Velobit was designed to be easy to manufacture at scale.

The smaller Velabit lidar sensor can be used in other applications such as mapping using drones, where size and weight are limited. The compact Velabit can be embedded in robots, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as well as infrastructure.

"Before the Velabit there was no suitable small and lightweight lidar for small unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned ground vehicles performing obstacle avoidance or mapping," said Alberto Lacaze, president, Robotic Research. "The Velabit fills a much-needed space in the market and is currently in a class of its own."

Velodyne supplied the lidar sensors for the first self-driving cars developed  by Google over a decade ago. At the time, lidar technology at the time was still new and Velodyne's first sensors were bulky and expensive, costing upwards of $75,000 each.

When Velodyne first supplied Google with its sensors in 2009, they resembling a large spinning bucket mounted on the roof of Google's first self-driving development vehicles.

Velodyne now supplies smaller and more advanced lidar sensors to automakers Ford, Mercedes Benz, Volvo and others for their autonomous driving development projects. 

In July 2019, Velodyne announced it acquired San Francisco-based startup Mapper.ai. Mapper.ai specializes in creating custom, high-definition maps for its clients working on autonomous driving.

With its acquisition of Mapper.ai, Velodyne is moving into the software space, developing advanced driver assist systems using lidar technology.


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