Lidar is a fantastic sensor for autonomous cars. Most companies developing self-driving vehicles seem to agree that the massive amount of long range, high accuracy data that you get from lidar is necessary, especially for complicated and variable urban environments. Really, the only reason why there’s been so much focus on getting autonomy to work with just cameras and radar is that cameras and radar are cheap, and lidar is ridiculously expensive.
The reason that lidar is expensive is because it generally involves a bunch of high quality optical components (lasers, sensors, that sort of thing) all hooked up together inside of a housing that spins. Over the last year or two, however, we’ve seen some prototypes of solid state lidars—lidar sensors that take all of that bulky and costly hardware and squish it down onto one or two chips that can be mass produced for cheap. It’s a technical challenge, but it’s also a necessary inevitability for lidar in general, which is why it’s exciting to hear that Velodyne is working on solid state lidar as well.