As Elon Musk made clear Monday, the technology most of his competitors in the self-driving car space use to help vehicles detect what's around them is lame. And his option is way better. "LiDAR is a fool's errand," he quipped about the laser-emitting tool that, in the simplest terms, acts as eyes for autonomous cars. "Anyone who is relying on LiDAR is doomed." That's pretty much most of the businesses testing self-driving cars, including Waymo and Uber who went to court over LiDAR technology last year.
Ouster, a San Francisco-based lidar startup that launched out of stealth in December 2017, today secured $42 million in funding, bringing its total raised to $140 million. Cofounder and CEO Angus Pacala says the fresh capital will be used to fund product development and support sales internationally. Lidar sensors are at the core of autonomous vehicle systems like those from Waymo, Uber, Aurora, and Cruise. These sensors measure the distance to objects by illuminating them with light and measuring the reflected pulses, and their use cases extend beyond the automotive sector. Lidar sensors are often tapped for obstacle detection and mapping in mining robots, atmospheric studies for space, forestry management, wind farm optimization, speed limit enforcement, and even video games.
Elon Musk really went for it this week at Tesla's Autonomy Day, ripping into widely used self-driving technology like laser sensors and (over)promising to put 1 million self-driving Tesla taxis on the streets next year. These bold claims certainly stirred up some feelings among autonomous vehicle experts and industry leaders. On Friday, Velodyne president Marta Hall released a long statement -- with a lot of ALL CAPS -- defending her company's main product, LiDAR sensors for autonomous vehicles. Tesla only uses cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and a radar unit for its sensor suite. "I personally like the Italian designed Tesla aesthetics and I applaud his leap toward the electrification of cars! However, I would not trust its'Autonomy,' claim, because the company has claimed its Auto Pilot feature is, 'Almost Autonomous.' IT IS NOT ALMOST AUTONOMOUS and it gives autonomy a bad rap," Hall wrote in an email statement.
It's 2035, the Second American Civil War has been won by the other side, and you find yourself in a heap of trouble with Attorney General Logan Paul. He has dispatched an all-seeing eye-in-the-sky to tail you, an agile flying machine equipped with 13 cameras and a top speed of 25 miles per hour. The drone knows your face, your gait and your clothing. It hovers persistently behind your back, moving when you move, stopping when you stop, resisting every effort to shake it. You run into the woods, but you still can't lose it.
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.