Between 2017 and 2023, the global lidar systems market for automotive applications will grow from $726 million to $5 billion, achieving a CAGR of 43 per cent, according to a new report by Yole Développement (Yole).
In addition, the growth should continue until 2032, with a $28 billion market value predicted for the automotive segment.
It was also found in a separate report by Knowmade, a Yole Group company, that since January 2017, more than 30,000 inventions related to lidar have been published worldwide.
Some companies, despite being created only a few years ago, have received millions in investments. For example, Blackmore, founded in 2016, recently received $18 million from BMW and Toyota. And Quanergy, launched in 2012, received $180 million in 2017.
According to Yole, such investments testify to the immaturity of lidar technologies. Start-ups, industrial players, tier 1s, and automotive OEMs are all investing in different approaches with no guarantee of success – but this is the price they must pay for a chance to be part of the automotive grade market for lidar technologies, seen by many as the ‘Holy Grail’.
‘In the past two years, more than $800 million has been invested in lidar companies,’ said Alexis Debray, technology and market analyst at Yole. ‘Therefore, there is clearly a strong excitement around these technologies.’
Yole’s report, titled ‘Lidars for automotive and industrial applications 2018’ highlights the strong diversity of technologies seen in the automotive sector. Most current products, such as those proposed by Velodyne, use a macro-mechanical scanning of laser beams at wavelengths between 830-940nm. However, MEMS scanners are expected to be the next evolution of automotive lidar, promising to be smaller and cheaper. The next step after this should be the optical phased-array, as proposed by Quanergy, in which no moving part is present – thus becoming even cheaper, smaller, and safer. This technology stems from optical fibre communications.
Some players like Continental and Xenomatix propose flash lidar, in which the whole scene is illuminated simultaneously with no moving part. Other players propose different solutions: Cepton and Luminar have revealed mechanical scanning technologies, while Neptec employs Risley prisms. Although many players use a wavelength from 830-940nm because corresponding optical components are more widespread, some are investigating the 1,550nm wavelength for which a higher laser power can be used, because the laser maximum’s permissible exposure is roughly 100x higher and also because dust robustness is better. These players include Blackmore, Neptec, Aeye, and Luminar.
And the diversity continues: while most lidar developers use a direct lidar type called pulse lidar, in which a pulse of light is sent to the target, a few companies are investigating continuous-wave ranging methods, which allow for heterodyne detection, resulting in much higher sensitivity. IFM and Benewake are investigating the phase-shift ranging method, while Blackmore and Oryx are investigating the frequency modulation ranging method.
This diversity is also demonstrated in the IPs filed. ‘The IP landscape is dominated by tier1s, and automotive OEMs players that have contributed to the development of lidar for ADAS applications (parking assistance, anti-collision alarms, etcetera.),’ explained Dr Paul Leclaire, IP analyst at Knowmade. ‘Among the top five patent assignees, four are Japanese including Denso, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota. Main Japanese players are automotive manufacturers.’
Today, these historical IP players are being more and more challenged by multinational group that cover many domains such as electronics, materials, embedded systems, and startups.