SAN FRANCISCO -- German supplier Robert Bosch GmbH will sell a laser-based radar known as lidar by 2020 to meet demand for high-tech sensors in autos, an executive said.
Many of today's driver assistance features, such as adaptive cruise control, rely on traditional radar or cameras. But automakers, suppliers and outside technology companies have started using lidar -- which uses beams of light instead of radio waves -- to get the high-resolution images needed for self-driving cars.
Speaking at the Automated Vehicles Symposium here on July 15, Jan Becker, a senior manager in the autonomous technology group at Bosch, said that 360-degree sensing must become more robust for cars to drive themselves. Bosch plans to commercialize a lidar system by 2020 to move toward that goal.
"We are convinced we need [it] in the future," Becker said.
Some suppliers of automotive-grade radar and cameras offer lidar.
Continental AG sells a lidar system for safety features that prevent crashes in cities, but it is intended only for speeds below 19 mph, said Steffen Linkenbach, the company's North American director of engineering systems and technology.
The best-known lidar supplier is probably Velodyne Inc., a small San Francisco Bay Area company that provides the spinning sensor on Google Inc.'s self-driving prototypes.
Wolfgang Juchmann, director of sales and marketing at Velodyne, said annual sales of automotive lidar systems are in the hundreds. He declined to give exact sales numbers. He said that more than 90 percent of major automakers and suppliers have bought at least one unit for r&d purposes.
Velodyne sells two models of lidar systems, one with 32 beams and the other with 64. They start at about $30,000, making them impractical for use in production models.
Juchmann said the systems sold by automotive suppliers tend to have four or so beams.
"In some respects it's a competitor," he said of the system that Bosch is developing. "But they're doing a different thing."