On the radar: Nissan stays cool on lidar tech, siding with Tesla

YOKOHAMA (Reuters) – Nissan Motor Co Ltd said on Thursday it would, for now, stick to self-driving technology which uses radar sensors and cameras, avoiding lidar or light-based sensors because of their high cost and limited capabilities.

The Japanese automaker unveiled updated self-driving technology a month after Tesla IncÔÇÖs Chief Executive Elon Musk called lidar ÔÇ£a foolÔÇÖs errandÔÇØ, berating the technology for being expensive and unnecessary.

Nissan, which wants to have its self-driving cars on city streets by 2020, has long shunned lidar, a relatively new technology for automobiles which has recently been the subject of an influx in investment by many of its rivals.

ÔÇ£At the moment, lidar lacks the capabilities to exceed the capabilities of the latest technology in radar and cameras,ÔÇØ Tetsuya Iijima, general manager of advanced technology development for automated driving, told reporters at NissanÔÇÖs headquarters.

ÔÇ£It would be fantastic if lidar technology was at the level that we could use it in our systems, but itÔÇÖs not. ThereÔÇÖs an imbalance between its cost and its capabilities.ÔÇØ

Iijima unveiled NissanÔÇÖs own latest self-driving technology, which enables hands-free driving in single lanes on highways on predefined routes.

The technology, to be released in Japan later this year, uses radar and sonar sensors along with cameras to compile the three-dimensional mapping data required for cars to ÔÇ£seeÔÇØ their surroundings.

Apart from sonar, side radar and around-view monitoring cameras, Nissan said it has developed a ÔÇ£tri-camÔÇØ that focuses on three points to the front and sides of the vehicle to capture a wide area of view.

Tesla also relies on cameras and radars for its self-driving technology.

Nissan wants to add its self-driving technology to more of its affordable models to boost sales and recover from a profit slump. When reporting earnings earlier this week, the automaker said it had hit ÔÇ£rock bottomÔÇØ in the aftermath of a financial scandal involving its ousted Chairman Carlos Ghosn.

FOOLÔÇÖS ERRAND?

Lidar is currently used by companies including General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Alphabet IncÔÇÖs Waymo as automakers and tech firms race to develop self-driving cars.

Lidar technology uses light-based sensors that fire roughly 1 million laser pulses a second as it collects measurements that are analyzed and processed into 3D models and maps.

More than $1 billion in corporate and private investment has been pumped into some 50 lidar startups over the past three years, according to a Reuters analysis in March of publicly available investment data.

Still, it is a technology in flux.

Initially using bulky spinning devices placed on the roof of cars, lidar developers have transitioned to more compact solid-state devices that can be mounted on other parts of a car. These now sell for less than $10,000 in limited quantities, and are widely expected to eventually sell for as little as $200 in mass production.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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