Automotive LiDAR is still in its early stages, with few OEMs implementing LiDAR in their cars. Nonetheless, there have been more than 15 partnerships between LiDAR manufacturers and OEMs concluded recently. This is expected to create a new wave with a large diversity of players involved and volumes expected to ramp up starting in 2024-2025.
In this context, Yole Développement (Yole) forecast in its LiDAR for automotive and industrial applications report (2021 edition coming soon) that the LiDAR market for automotive is expected to grow from $85 million in 2021 to $2.3 billion in 2026, representing almost half of the 2026 LiDAR market.
Alexis Debray and Pierrick Boulay, Market and Technology Senior Analysts at Yole Développement (Yole), had the opportunity to talk about LiDAR with Filip Geuens, CEO of Xenomatix, and Frédéric Chave, Director Product Management & Business Development ADAS Sensors & Smart Corner at Marelli Automotive Lighting.
Discover the detail of their discussion below.
Alexis Debray (AD): Could you please introduce both companies, Xenomatix and Marelli?
Filip Geuens (FG): XenomatiX is the first company to offer true solid-state LiDAR solutions for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving (AD), and road digitization. Designing and building products and software that enable precise real-time 4D-6D digitization and an understanding of a vehicle’s surroundings, XenomatiX empowers applications that lead to safer and more comfortable vehicles.
Frédéric Chave (FC): Marelli is one of the major automotive suppliers worldwide. Its business unit Marelli Automotive Lighting – with more than 30 locations worldwide – is among the global leaders in the development and manufacturing of headlamps, rear lamps, and lighting electronics. Such sophisticated products as laser, LED matrix, digital headlights, and OLED rear lamps belong to the product portfolio of Marelli Automotive Lighting. In cooperation with XenomatiX, Marelli Automotive Lighting strengthens and extends its position in the field of sensors such as LiDAR, making sensors the company’s fourth pillar.
AD: Could you tell us your vision of the LiDAR industry today?
FC: After a period of intense technology exploration, a time of convergence and consolidation has started. It is becoming more clear which solutions will prevail. Multi-beam solid-state LiDAR is definitely one of them.
The push from the automotive industry for LiDAR solutions is increasing. Due to safety and reputation concerns, a growing number of OEMs will be taking the direction of full AD in specific operation domains and certainly call for LiDAR to deliver autonomy.
Now it’s a matter of industrializing and letting mature the solutions that have survived the experimental phase. Here, we focus on offering robust sensing solutions from ADAS L2+, up to enabling full autonomy. Current developments are mainly driven by China and the USA, where there is greater market acceptance. We also see regulations evolving in other places, such as the UK DoT which will soon release L3 hands-free automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS), even though vehicles must still run at low speeds and a full self-driving solution is not yet allowed. The German Federal Government will also allow L4 operations in some restricted public roads by 2022. This will help to see more activity in the EU, where most AD programs have been delayed, as we will see in the next point.
AD: What was the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the LiDAR industry? On Xenomatix’ and Marelli’s business?
FG & FC: The pandemic clearly slowed down the entire automotive industry. Budgets have been reduced, and more importantly, everybody has been struggling and still struggles, with issues related to supply and production restart. The electronics supply crisis, a side effect of the health crisis, had a sever impact as well.
Also, as a result of the pandemic, the preference for private transportation became stronger. For health reasons, private transportation seems again to be more attractive than ride-sharing. Along with more home working, fewer traffic jams will result in a shift from public transport to more private driving.
Even so, growing public demand for “going green” remains, and city strategies for new mobility are still being enforced. They include not only the expansion of bicycle lanes, but also shuttle solutions. Important launches in this area occurred during the pandemic. Additionally, these higher levels of automation will enable a commuter to work while being transported, which will compete with homeworking.
Clearly, in 2020 our business was affected by COVID-19. However, less customer interaction resulted in more focus on product development which will be beneficial in the longer run.
Pierrick Boulay (PB): Please describe the technical development you have recently completed for LiDAR.
FG: Our teams are constantly being built up to support our expanding technical developments.
As a result of our constant optimization, we’ve made our LiDAR 3-times smaller. In addition, it consumes only half as much energy as before, and we increased the number of laser beams by a factor of 3.
We have worked on the industrialization of solid-state LiDAR. A good technical concept is one thing; setting up a supply chain and making the product manufacturable and affordable is another.
While preparing for serial production, we have worked on refining our manufacturing processes and, in parallel, reinforced our Neural Network (NN) training with more km driven to increase our system robustness.
PB: LiDAR integration is an important facet of automotive applications. According to Xenomatix and Marelli, what are the current challenges?
FG & FC: LiDAR is expected to solve many (corner) cases, especially when fused with radar and camera. Yet, it seems an unfair battle. LiDARs are expected to be as cheap as 15-year-old camera and radar technology as of day one. At the same time, they are expected to see nearby, far away, and in all directions simultaneously, with human precision. Moreover, LiDAR is expected to deal with all weather and road conditions where camera and radar struggle.
The biggest issue is, therefore, the decision on what are fair and reasonable applications for LiDAR to ensure it deserves its place in vehicles.
And yet, novel LiDARs will enable Decision ECUs to make faster decisions and master difficult situations, such as increased speed or intermingling, such as lane changes or lane merges. More sensors, able to share more accurate information, will be needed before even more futuristic solutions, such as Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC), can also be implemented.
Indeed, more sensors positioned around the car, including LiDAR, pose a significant integration challenge with respect to styling, by limiting unnecessary protrusions and dealing with space limitations from structural body parts.
AD: What will be the key technologies required to overcome these challenges?
FC: Marelli Automotive Lighting, the initiator of the Smart Corner® solution, offers the integration of sensors into lighting elements and clusters, taking advantage of existing production knowledge and footprint for exterior parts located in strategic locations offering an unobstructed view for sensing elements.
Dealing with adverse conditions is a critical challenge for LiDAR. We believe that imaging LiDAR (e.g., LiDAR making use of a CMOS detector for inherent sensor fusion) is a great way to achieve this. Imaging LiDAR can measure distance, as a LiDAR is supposed to do, but it can also take images to check for contamination (by mud), scatter light (by fog), spoofing (by other light sources). Our solution offers strong capabilities in dirt detection and in direct, efficient cleaning.
PB: The grille was the first location chosen by OEMs to position a LiDAR. Headlamps are also becoming more and more of interest to integrate these components. What other locations are you investigating and why?
FC: Two things are of the essence: clear view and aesthetics. The LiDAR should not have undesired blind zones. At the same time, the device should not draw attention. Currently, it can be placed in the grille and in exterior front and rear lighting (Smart Corner). These options respond optimally to styling requirements as well as to demands of cost, space, and weight. Other locations are being reviewed in order to cover any problematic use cases in the above-mentioned scenarios. Therefore, LiDAR may be positioned in many different positions on the vehicle to monitor all directions. In and of itself, there are many options, as long as the requirements – clear view and aesthetics – are met. For example, LiDAR could be placed in the top or the bottom of B-pillars, behind rear windows, in side-view mirrors, in a sensor strip under the roof, in the turn indicator. There are many “openings”, and the module size is the foundation of its easy integration. It also offers the ability to split the coverage of the overall FOV through a set of modules placed around the car: something that has a significant space overhead with mechanical-based LiDAR.
AD: Lighting is becoming more and more horizontal in cars, both at the front and rear, and is increasingly used for communication. Are lighting components more suitable to integrate new functionalities like sensors or small displays? What is changing in the expertise and knowledge of lighting suppliers?
FG: While we see regulatory functions taking less space in front and rear lamps with the greater efficiency of LEDs, more narrow and wide light strips are beneficial for LiDAR. LiDAR does not need a large front window to look through. Light strips can be segmented, and certain areas can be allocated to LiDAR. Also, heat-generating components can be better combined.
EVs help limit the competition for space in the engine bay for headlamps, and they will undoubtedly have more space on the grille when an air intake is no longer required. As for rear lamps, historically, they have less space allocated, and the small volume of our LiDAR modules facilitates their integration.
There is also a growing trend in grille illumination and animation or extended illuminations bars. All these surfaces give more opportunities for smart-sensor integration, aided with the help of innovative base material suppliers.
Overall, lights will have a double function: not just sending out light (and signals), but also capturing light (and signals). Some new possibilities are also to be expected in this area: the automotive light industry should therefore expect good business opportunities.
PB: When do you expect automotive to become a volume application for LiDAR?
FC: OEMs still have to gain more expertise with LiDAR. It’s still early days for LiDAR business, even though there is a broad consensus, and we believe that volumes will come. This will happen in the second half of this decade. Initially, LiDAR will enhance ADAS. Next, it will take a key role in AD. It took over a decade for radar to become a commodity, so we do not expect less time for LiDAR.
PB: Can we expect to see LiDAR in most cars in the future?
FG: Absolutely. High-resolution depth sensing is a must-have in our traffic. Unfortunately, humans make mistakes, and the interest in driving will decrease (on a crowded planet with a strong desire for mobility). Therefore, it is in the interest of the automotive sector to build 3D sensing expertise as soon as possible.
LiDAR surely reinforces safety and delivers the redundancy necessary for autonomous cars: no compromises are possible for safety. LiDAR technology delivers information in unique situations that will always help faster and more robust decision-making at increasing speeds or increasing complexity.
AD: Do you foresee LiDAR in other applications as well, such as trucks and vertical take-off (VTOL) aircraft?
FG: There are a lot of commonalities; these applications also require outdoor sensing in varying light conditions over similar ranges. Cost, weight, and size requirements of LiDAR for drones and cars are very similar. While drones are less hampered by ‘pedestrians’, they still need precise geometric information to find suitable landing spots in crowded urban environments and avoid collisions with all kinds of infrastructure.
Finally, there is also an ongoing growth in interest for autonomous solutions in private areas, some already at large operational scale, such as mining, farming, and goods hauling in yards or ports. They all require LiDAR for safe operation in all weather conditions. After a first consolidation phase, autonomous trucking is now seeing traction in the USA and Asia and surely needs LiDAR to operate safely. Requirements are, however, amplified for such applications, with longer range, greater resistance to shock and vibration, and naturally a longer lifetime to limit any time-consuming maintenance operations.
AD: How do you see the LiDAR automotive industry evolve?
FC: Like the camera industry: initially, the hardware is the dominant differentiator, but after a while, the importance of software and application support becomes essential.
It is not necessarily an automotive LiDAR industry, but a mobility LiDAR industry: after cars and trucks, drones, AGVs, motorcycles, bikes, and other means of transport will require depth sensing.
In parallel, smarter fusion of the output of the numerous sensors on a car will occur: what more can be done with the same or less sensing? Improvements in KPIs, reliability, and performance combined with possible lowered concerns on redundancy will come in the longer term. Again, without suffering loss of safety for the end-user. Better use of combined sensor output through V2X will also deliver novel functionalities, including greater surveying capabilities & better sharing of road information.
Combining features within one sensor, like our LiDAR module offering already 2D and 3D output from a single sensor, offers great opportunities. Eventually, more extensive sensor availability will enable entry ADAS markets to apply LiDAR sensing.
PB: Do you wish to add anything for our i-Micronews’ readers?
FG & FC: We are releasing our new LiDAR module to the market in the course of Summer 2021. Please contact XenomatiX or Marelli Automotive Lighting for demonstrations.
Frederic Chave is Director Product Management & Business Development ADAS Sensors & Smart Corner, located in Marelli Automotive Lighting Torino, Italy, since 2018.
With over 20 years of experience in the automotive industry, he first joined the Sales team of Marelli Automotive Lighting in 2015 as Customer Director for Japanese OEMs, based in Shin-Yokohama.
In previous roles held at TE Connectivity, Frederic’s career evolved from Development Engineering to Global Sales positions, based in various locations in Canada, United States, Germany, and France locations.
Frederic holds a Mechanical Engineer degree from ENI Tarbes, France, specializing in Polymers.
Filip Geuens is CEO of XenomatiX, a Belgium-based tier II automotive supplier, provider of true solid-state lidar technology. Filip spent his entire career in optical metrology. He started as the 7th employee at a company called Krypton, developing optical coordinate measuring machines.
In his previous role, Filip was CTO of Nikon Metrology, one of the 6 business units of Nikon. That business unit is developing optical 3D inspection systems for quality control in automotive and aerospace.
In early 2015, Filip decided to leave Nikon to build and grow XenomatiX. His experience in optical systems and the automotive business allowed him to appreciate the technology XenomatiX started developing in 2012.
Filip holds a BE degree in Mechatronics Engineering from the University of Leuven, Belgium, as well as an MS in Operations Management.
Alexis Debray, Ph.D., is a Senior Analyst at Yole Développement (Yole), dedicated to the production of technology & market reports and custom consulting projects in the fields of Photonics, Sensing, and Semiconductors.
Before joining Yole, Alexis spent 17 years in Japan. He worked for 2 years developing expertise in MEMS technologies and then for 15 years at Canon Inc. as a research engineer, where he contributed to numerous developmental projects focused on MEMS devices, lingual prehension, and terahertz imaging devices.
Alexis is the author of various scientific publications and patents. He graduated from ENSICAEN (France) and was awarded a Ph.D. in applied acoustics.
As part of the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement (Yole), Pierrick Boulay works as Senior Market and Technology Analyst in the fields of Solid-State Lighting and Lighting Systems to carry out technical, economic, and marketing analysis. Pierrick has authored several reports and custom analyses dedicated to topics such as general lighting, automotive lighting, LiDAR, IR LEDs, UV LEDs, and VCSELs.
Prior to Yole, Pierrick has worked in several companies where he developed his knowledge of general lighting and automotive lighting. In the past, he has mainly worked in R&D departments for LED lighting applications. Pierrick holds a master’s degree in Electronics (ESEO – Angers, France).
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