General Motors snaps up LIDAR tech startup

By on 11 October, 2017

An early prototype of Strobe’s LiDAR. Image courtesy of Cruise Automation.

US auto giant General Motors has hit the accelerator on its driverless car project, acquiring LiDAR startup Strobe.

The move makes Strobe a part of GM’s own driverless car startup, Cruise, bringing with it heaps of engineering talent and tech, which in a post announcing the move Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt says will help reduce the cost of LiDAR by nearly 100%.

LiDAR is currently among the costliest components for driverless cars, and what sets the Strobe solution apart is that it reduces the entire LiDAR array down to just one chip. Cruise CEO Vogt says reducing both the complexity and the cost of LiDAR will be key to overcoming what he calls a major ‘bottleneck’ in driverless car development.

“Strobe’s LiDAR technology will significantly improve the cost and capabilities of our vehicles so that we can more quickly accomplish our mission to deploy driverless vehicles at scale,” Vogt says.

The high cost that has been associated with LiDAR has created a few sceptics in the race for fully autonomous cars – most notably Tesla’s Elon Musk. Instead, Tesla has relied primarily on cameras and artificial intelligence in pursuing its semi-autonomous system, Autopilot.

But, the vast majority of industry players believe LiDAR is crucial to creating a system that combines the range, robustness and cost to make a fleet of fully driverless cars practical and safe.

“The successful deployment of self-driving vehicles will be highly dependent on the availability of LiDAR sensors,” says Julie Schoenfeld, Founder and CEO of Strobe. “Strobe’s deep engineering talent and technology backed by numerous patents will play a significant role in helping GM and Cruise bring these vehicles to market sooner than many think.”

In September, Cruise Automation unveiled the world’s first mass-producible car designed with what the company calls the redundancy and safety requirements necessary to operate without a driver. The vehicle will join Cruise’s testing fleets across the United States.

The driverless world is coming. But as we reported last month, the world’s drivers and riders may not be all that ready for it.

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