We spoke to Neil Huntingdon, Vice President of Business Development at Cepton, about 3D LiDAR and its importance for the development of smart vehicles and devices.
Lidar is getting into newer applications every few months and with the expected increase in product maturity and substantial reduction in cost over the next two to three years, lidar technology is at the threshold of mass market adoption across several industries. Automotive, new mobility, commercial vehicles, mapping, industrial robots and UAVs are already well-known markets for lidar; however, there are other emerging lidar applications that are likely to prove just as exciting. Examples of newer markets for lidar include security, transport infrastructure, smart cities, and rail. For instance, in road tolling systems lidar helps accurately classify vehicles entering the roadways even at highway speeds. At smart intersections, lidar identifies people or objects in specific zones (e.g., road or railway crossings), to help reduce accidents and ensure safety.
In short, we expect incredible growth for the lidar industry over the next few years. At the same time, the demands on lidar performance, maturity and cost will become more important – and in the process, fewer lidar companies are going to be able to keep up, leading to some consolidation and a natural concentration of lidar expertise among a smaller set of companies.
Being a startup, Cepton naturally values strategic and cooperative partnerships with larger companies. Automotive OEMs and Tier 1s are obviously important but collaborations could extend beyond autonomous vehicles – and could also benefit companies with a presence in common markets that are looking to expand their footprint via partnerships. For instance, we work with automotive OEMs not only on autonomous driving and driver assistance applications but also on lidar solutions for transport infrastructure. At the same time, we’ve been working with smaller companies like Dataspeed – as an example - to integrate our products into vehicles for test drives. We greatly value these partnerships and expect to continue to grow them in the next 12 months.
The U.S. has the largest scale of development and deployment of autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies, with many companies targeting various segments, such as ride-hailing, shuttles/taxis, grocery/food delivery, and trucking. State governments and national regulatory bodies are working very proactively with companies to understand the risks and develop sensible guidelines and legislation to enable the safe rollout of autonomous technologies.
In Asia, the proliferation of startups and companies in the autonomous technology space has been significant in China. Even outside of China, there is a substantial level of R&D ongoing across various companies in many countries. For instance, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been a major catalyst for the development of AV technologies in Japan – with companies focusing on offering autonomous mobility services to the public during this major international event. Some of this R&D is also leading to a greater focus on innovations for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).
In Europe, AV deployment is at a smaller scale compared to the US, but there is greater emphasis on ADAS. This is, in part, motivated by the strong safety focus, in keeping with the suggested Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment program) 2020+ roadmap. We are therefore seeing significant discussions with sensor companies by automotive OEMs and Tier 1s in Europe.
The other trend is that the heavy investment in autonomous vehicle and sensor technologies is benefiting many other markets. Over the last year, we have seen big increases in customer interest in lidars in a swath of other markets, as discussed earlier. In the process, getting industry-specific customer feedback is really helping us – and other companies - build products that are more reliable and widely applicable.
At Cepton, our biggest market currently is the U.S. We believe many states and municipalities are very progressive in their thinking and approach, which enables the development and deployment of autonomous systems and technologies. Many local governments and leaders also believe that smart cities require new types of sensors and have therefore embraced modern sensor technologies for their next-generation city infrastructure. For example, Cepton is working closely with pioneering partners in this area, who have deployed our high performing lidars on freeways and traffic intersections. So, we should avoid creating the misperception that governments are not able to innovate or keep up - the gap between the public and private sectors is narrowing. We need and look forward to more open forums and consortiums to encourage all parties to work together on trials and deployments, to learn and scale in a collaborative manner.
There are many innovative companies in this space, and Cepton is very fortunate to be working with some of them. For example, May Mobility – one of our partners - is one of the earliest innovators in AV technology and they have successfully deployed self-driving fleet vehicles on public roads in Michigan. They also recently launched a wheelchair-friendly prototype version of their autonomous shuttle, further illustrating how AV technology can make transportation not just safer but also easier for everyone. On the automotive side, we are fortunate to have an innovative partner like Koito Manufacturing. As a major automotive Tier 1, Koito has demonstrated how lidars could be integrated into vehicle headlamps to combine autonomous driving and design elegance. Being a company that is also a major provider of streetlamps in Japan, Koito also fully understands that the next generation of transport infrastructure needs not just illumination but also smart sensing.
Stop by the Cepton stand in Hall 5, B3415!