There is no question that the video is impressive and that Volvo and Luminar seem fully invested in a safe introduction of autonomous vehicles, but achieving Level 4 (everything with some constraints) under highway conditions is a monumental challenge.
A lidar sensor that can detect small objects at 250 meters would be a major step in the right direction. That is the claim made by Luminar’s CEO, Austin Russell. Their lidar is capable of providing enough detail to allow “pose estimation” which can be used to identify moving objects.
The Volvo 360c is a concept vehicle. This is what a Level 4 vehicle could look like. It’s a designer’s imagination.
In Volvo’s view of things, now being shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show, you’d have to get on and off the highway yourself (that’s the one constraint). Then you’d just flip a switch and zone out until you reach your exit.
“We have 18 different companies working with us and partnered with us,” says Luminar founder Austin Russell. “A lot of those are recent, very recent; unfortunately most of them are not public.”
Truck companies are particularly interested in long-range lidar because they stand to benefit from the stopping time that it makes possible. Luminar’s 250 meters of range provides 7-plus seconds notice at highway speeds, enough to slow even a big rig to a stop.
Luminar is notable for basing its lidar on moving parts rather than solid-state methods, and for choosing a laser wavelength that’s safe for the eyes and can thus be projected at high intensity. It uses just one widely sweeping laser and receiver‚ unlike the 128 laser/receiver pairs in the top-of-the-line product from Velodyne, the company that started automotive lidar and still dominates the market. Velodyne’s lasers move visibly, rotating on the roof of the car, whereas most of the 60-odd lidar startups have preferred solid-state solutions. The idea is that non-moving devices should be cheaper and more resistant to degradation under road conditions.
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