TOKYO -- Pioneer has developed an inexpensive laser-based 3-D measurement system for self-driving cars that's designed to serve as the vehicles' eyes.
The lidar 3-D measurement systems currently being tested by the likes of Google can be as expensive as the cars themselves, costing anywhere from 3 million yen to 9 million yen ($24,500 to $73,600) apiece.
Pioneer has developed a less-costly alternative by leveraging the technology for optical pickups used to read optical discs. Using existing manufacturing equipment at its factory in Saitama Prefecture, the company believes it can bring the cost down below 10,000 yen by 2025 once the product enters into mass production.
Like the expensive lidar systems, Pioneer's device reads the laser light reflected back off targets to measure the distance to those targets. It can detect the shapes of objects with an accuracy of better than 5cm within a radius of 100 meters from the car as it drives. It can also detect the painted lines separating lanes and bumps and dips in the road. The device is less than half the size of existing lidar systems, measuring under 10cm to a side.
Pioneer has completed a prototype and plans to begin road tests in 2016 on cars operated by a subsidiary that produces digital maps. It aims to have a version for commercial vehicles ready in 2017, and a version for consumer cars out as early as 2018.
Its plan is to market the device to companies like Google that are developing autonomous vehicles.
In a future world of self-driving cars, vehicles will need not only sensors to watch their surroundings but also map information to know where they are going. Pioneer thus also plans a cloud-based map information system, updated by crowdsourcing the information collected by all the cars driving around with its 3-D measurement system. It plans to build this system in 2018 or later.
The market for autonomous vehicles is set for explosive growth, and Pioneer is steering for some of that business, aiming for annual sales of 35 billion yen.
Come 2020, some 53 million cars equipped with self-driving systems will be on the world's roads, according to an estimate by Yano Research, a Tokyo-based market research company.