“You will need all of them”, says Dr. Louay Eldada. Eldada, CEO of Quanergy was referring to the idea of fusing multiple types of sensors together to paint a complete picture of a vehicle’s environment. This picture Eldada describes is one that is more crisp and extensive (360 degree view) than what a human could see.
Quanergy’s focus in the autonomous vehicle world is creating solid-state LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) modules that, as Eldada points out, provides a resolution of 3.5 centimeters at 100 meters. This sort of resolution allows for the recognition of cars and even shapes as small as hands. With the help of artificial intelligence, LiDAR could detect and identify the stranded motorist waving their hands in the night sky by the side of the road, alerting the human driver (or automatic braking system) to slow down.
Like a human driver with her eyes and ears, multiple types of sensors working at different wavelengths, provide a sort redundancy as well as a richer view of the world. For instance, the LiDAR module would filter the glare of the late afternoon sun; a glare that would effectively blind a camera system or the human driver.
Eldada suggests that the automation enabled by LiDAR and other sensors will be a continuum, such that it will start with everyday vehicles and will move to vehicles that drive us; the driverless carriages of the not-too-distant future. The technology is following the cost curve necessary to make this a relatively low-cost, standard feature in all automobiles. True to his prediction from when we caught up with him in January 2015, the LiDAR modules have evolved to solid state, relatively small and low-cost (measure in the hundreds of dollars).
And vehicles are only one market for this technology that has many applications; , from mapping to security¹ to industrial automation. It is these applications and the relatively rapid commercialization of LiDAR are probably some of the reasons Quanergy’s most recent investment round put its valuation at over well $1 billion (PDF).
¹[Note: Added 8/29/16 – Quanergy’s announcement of its acquisition of OTUS People Tracker software from Raytheon BBN Technologies is an example of one of its initiatives to delve deeper into the security market. This software will allow the LiDAR to identify and track individuals in a crowd in 3D and real-time. Although, according to the press release it will become part of Q-Guard, Quanergy’s 3D perimeter fencing and intrusion detection system, it isn’t too difficult to imagine that a self-driving car would use this technology to understand human gestures.]