Cruise, the self-driving car startup GM acquired last year, has acquired a startup of its own – Strobe, a LiDAR sensor maker that reduces an entire LiDAR array down to just one chip, which Cruise says will be instrumental in helping it reduce the cost of LiDAR on a per vehicle basis by nearly 100 percent.
The cost issue is a big one: LiDAR remains one of the single most expensive components in the autonomous vehicle stack, and it's a bottleneck not just in terms of cost, but also in terms of manufacturing complexity and performance and reliability over time across all types of weather, as Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt notes in a Medium post announcing the news.
Vogt says that decreasing costs for autonomous vehicles will be key in deploying them across a range of different areas, including in the suburbs and outside of major cities, where currently the economics would make it difficult to deploy something like an autonomous ride hailing service.
Strobe's technology offers accurate measurement of both distance and velocity, Vogt says, and combined with radar, can provide information vital to decision-making for self-driving cars. Strobe will bring their team and founders to Cruise, and Cruise will work with both its new engineers and with GM resources to develop LiDAR tech along with GM's Hughes Research Labs skunkworks team.
Velodyne is currently the industry leader in terms of LiDAR employed in self-driving vehicle technology, but many are trying to improve the cost, form factor and reliability of LiDAR parts. Another startup, Luminar, recently revealed the scale of its own operation, and it's also announced that it's working with Toyota Research Institute along with other select partners to add its capabilities to autonomous test vehicles on the road.