The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Cheap Lidar: The Key to Making Self-Driving Cars Affordable

Startups and established players think they have the key to inexpensive lidar

3 min read
Image: Velodyne
Pixels and Points: A Velodyne lidar produces a set of data points that show nearby cars. Makers of self-driving car consider it essential tech.
Image: Velodyne

Chances are you’ve never seen afully autonomous self-driving car out on the street. But if you have, you probably couldn’t help but notice the distinctive spinning sensor adorning its roof. It’s what helps an autonomous vehicle understand the world around it, but it’s also what’s keeping autonomous vehicles from being affordable enough for the average consumer to buy. Lidar (light radar) is complex and expensive right now, but within the next few years, it’ll be cheaper and more reliable—and everywhere.

Lidar is a sensing technology similar to radar that detects objects with pulses of laser light. Though lidar has a shorter range than radar (tens to hundreds of meters), the much shorter wavelengths used by lidar result in a massive increase in resolution. The uniquely reliable and high-quality data that lidar provides has made it the sensor of choice for the majority of vehicle autonomy applications. In fact, many experts feel that lidar is a necessity for driverless cars.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

Keep Reading ↓Show less