Alibaba Group’s Cainiao Network and RoboSense unveiled G Plus, the world’s first solid-state LiDAR unmanned logistics vehicle.

The G Plus vehicle. (Image courtesy of RoboSense.)

LiDAR instrument fires rapid pulses of laser light at a surface—sometimes at a rate of millions of times per second. A sensor on the unit measures the amount of time it takes for each pulse to bounce back, compiling the results into a kind of 3-D map of the world in real time. Since light moves at a constant and known speed, the instrument can calculate the distance between itself and a target with high accuracy. Autonomous vehicles use LiDAR to navigate, avoid obstacles and keep pedestrians safe.

The G Plus vehicle is equipped with three LiDAR units—two in the front of the vehicle and one in the rear. The units work together to create a 3-D map of the driving environment that allows the vehicle to track direction, speed, shape and distance of obstacles, pedestrians, terrain and other objects around the vehicle with pinpoint accuracy.

RoboSense is the first company in China to bring autonomous driving LiDAR into mass production—an indication of the growing worldwide demand for LiDAR technologies. The LiDAR market is estimated to be $819 million in 2018, and is forecast to grow to over $1.8 billion by 2023. The market for solid-state LiDAR in particular is expected to experience the highest rate of growth during this period.

Laser vision is hard to match

Self-driving vehicles use other sensors such as radars and cameras to navigate, but laser vision is hard to match. While radars are reliable, they don’t offer the resolution needed to differentiate details like arms and legs. And while cameras can provide the resolution, they require powerful machine-learning software to translate 2-D images into 3-D understanding in real time. LiDAR, however, offers extensive, detailed, computer-friendly data in the form of exact measurements.

The RoboSense LiDAR, named the RS-LiDAR-M1Pre, is the company’s first microelectromechanical system (MEMS) solid-state LiDAR.

Miniaturization was the key

This technology takes advantage of miniaturization that integrates mechanical and electrical elements to create small but powerful sensors. As a result, RoboSense’s LiDAR units require only a few laser emitters and receivers. In contrast, traditional mechanical LiDAR units require more than a hundred of these components to rotate and scan at the same time.

This technology also makes the RoboSense LiDAR more stable and less costly, with fewer components to maintain and repair. “The solid-state laser has the advantages of high stability, high resolution and low cost, and it can well meet the demand for OEMs,” said Mark Qiu, RoboSense’s cofounder and chief operating officer.

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