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Prices for LIDAR come down rapidly, but Elon Musk still bets on cameras

Light Detection and Ranging – LIDAR – is the next big thing for quite a while now. The technology that uses pulsed laser to measure ranges and is used to build 3-D-maps for robots seems to be one of those things that were not able to live up to the hype. Too expensive, too clunky – LIDAR just did not work for that many applications. Velodyne presented it´s newest LIDAR product: the Velabit. Its main feature is the price: 100 Dollar (here).

As with all mankind produces, prices go down with volume. Sure, the Velabit doesn´t have the same capabilities that those mounted, rotating boxes have, that you will find on many autonomous vehicles. But those are more expensive. One of the first products from Velodyne cost 75.000 Dollar. Not only do costs come down, but also Bosch, a big supplier for the car industry, announced to enter the race to supply the millions of self-driving cars to come with LIDAR systems (here).

Are we finally at the point where LIDAR systems reach market fit and lead us into the future of autonomous cars?

Elon Musk does not think so. He called the technology a “fool´s errand” last year at an event for investors, citing the high costs and limited additional information. Tesla´s self-driving efforts rely on cameras and sensors but not LIDAR. Tesla anticipated correctly the cost savings for batteries with mass production. Maybe Mr Musk should not underestimate this effect when it comes to LIDAR.