The vision of smart autonomous robots in the indoor environment is becoming a reality in the current decade. This vision is now becoming a reality because of emerging technologies of Sensor Fusion and Artificial Intelligence. Sensor fusion is aggregating informative features from disparate hardware resources. Just like autonomous vehicles, the robotic industry is quickly moving towards automatic smart robots for handling indoor tasks. Now the major question arises.
For years, the lidar business has had a lot of hype but not a lot of hard numbers. Dozens of lidar startups have touted their impressive technology, but until recently it wasn't clear who, if anyone, was actually gaining traction with customers. This story originally appeared on Ars Technica, a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, reviews, and more. Ars is owned by WIRED's parent company, Condé Nast. This summer, three leading lidar makers have done major fundraising rounds that included releasing public data on their financial performance.
Are you building a robot that's supposed to autonomously navigate in a useful way? Cool, that means you'll be needing a LIDAR system, then. For better or worse, it's usually just that straightforward: LIDAR is arguably the best sensor we have right now for reliable navigation, localization, and obstacle avoidance for ground robots. In terms of relatively low-cost sensors, sonar is poor resolution and short range; structured light and time-of-flight sensors are short range and don't work well outdoors; and camera-based vision systems aren't robust enough for reliable navigation. The "relatively low cost" bit is the problem: LIDARs are pricey, and an "affordable" 2D unit, with a range of 10 meters or less, can cost you over US 1,000.
Ford CEO Mark Fields holds Velodyne Puck LIDAR sensor at a press conference at CES in Las Vegas in January. Carmakers and tech firms competing to develop automated vehicles seek a combination of sensors and cameras that provide maximum perception and visibility of surroundings at a cost that's manageable for mass production. Velodyne, a leading maker of laser-based LiDAR, or Light, Detection and Ranging, sensors, says it has designed a new solid-state version of its technology that provides 3D imaging for automated vehicle systems that will cost less than $50 per unit when manufactured at high volume. That's a fraction of the $8,000 cost of its current mechanical spinning LIDAR devices used in prototype robotic cars. The new design "creates a true solid-state LiDAR sensor, while significantly raising the bar as to what can be expected from LiDAR sensors as far as cost, size and reliability," company founder and CEO David Hall said in a statement.