The super hush-hush "Project Titan" autonomous car unit of Apple Inc. now wants to equip the self-driving Apple Car with smaller and cheaper Lidar (light detection and ranging) sensors to allow them to better navigate their surroundings.
Multiple sources cited by media Wednesday said Apple is exploring options for a "revolutionary design" in Lidar sensors. The company has spoken with at least four unnamed companies looking specifically to identify a new generation of sensor that's "smaller, cheaper and more easily mass produced."
Lidar uses a kind of 3D mapping system in navigation. It's clearly superior as a navigation tool compared to digital cameras (such as those used by Tesla) because it gives self-driving cars a three-dimensional image to work with.
It's also extremely accurate compared to cameras because the lasers aren't confused by shadows, bright sunlight or the headlights of oncoming cars.
Apple wants its suppliers to develop a new generation of Lidar sensors that can detect objects hundreds of meters away. The company is also said to be developing its own in-house version of the Lidar system it has in mind.
Lidar sensors in use today are big, unwieldy and costs tens of thousands of dollars each. In contrast, Apple's wants to see new Lidar systems built using typical semiconductor production processes that will significantly slash prices to below $1,000 per unit. Apple isn't happy with much of what it's seen as regards the current state of Lidar systems, indicating it has stringent and demanding requirements it wants followed.
Apple already deploys Lidar in its Apple Maps cars that collect data but these systems are huge and expensive.
Apple wants to control what it calls the "perception stack" of a self-driving car platform, extending from the hardware to the software algorithms that makes the decisions. Key to Apple is controlling the perception stack of sensors, computers and software to drive an autonomous vehicle, regardless of who makes the vehicle.
Despite focusing on developing consumer-grade Lidar, it still isn't clear if it is really committed to making its own Apple self-driving car. Some believe Apple wants to license its technology to existing carmakers, leaving the door open to creating its own vehicle in the future.
This article was first published in IBTimes US. Permission required for reproduction.