Seeing the Road Ahead: What You Need to Know About LiDAR

This is the second in a series of notes based on our deep dive into computer perception for autonomous vehicles. Autonomy is a question of when? not if? In this series, we’ll outline our thoughts on the key components that will enable fully autonomous driving. See our previous note (Computer Perception Outlook 2030) here.

LiDAR sensors will play a prominent role in the road to full autonomy. Although we think all computer perception technologies, such as cameras and RADARs, are important, the integration of LiDAR provides a sensor suite with increased performance and redundancy that is not attainable with cameras and RADAR alone. Most importantly, it provides another layer of data beyond what humans can perceive. In hopes of building a system that is safer and more efficient than humans, more data is always better. LiDAR’s primary applications play an important role by supplementing the data gathered by cameras and RADARs with object recognition, distance estimation, and advanced mapping capabilities. Given how important LiDAR will be to this emerging theme, we believe the LiDAR market opportunity solely for autonomous driving can grow to $16B by 2030, as higher volumes of level 4/5 self-driving vehicles enter the roads. While we do not believe the real inflection will begin until 2020, key players are emerging today and we believe there are 3 key points everyone interested in this theme needs to know today.

1) LiDAR comes in different forms. The first thing one should know about LiDAR is there are multiple kinds of LiDAR technologies. As displayed in the exhibit below, each type of LiDAR offers advantages and disadvantages to price, performance, and reliability, but it’s important to know that the industry is moving from Mechanical LiDAR to Solid State LiDAR due to lower costs and higher reliability. However, to make it slightly more complicated, there are multiple kinds of Solid State LiDAR, and once again, each is better utilized in certain applications. Today, most OEMs are still testing multiple LiDAR technologies, and the industry is still looking for commercialized LiDAR technologies that meet safety and performance requirements at mass-market production levels.

2) Key components and who makes them. Regardless of the type of LiDAR technology, almost all systems rely on similar core components. As displayed in the interactive exhibit below, these key components include laser emitters, photodetectors and advanced integrated circuits (ICs) to process the high-density LiDAR information. Historically and still largely today, Tier 1 auto suppliers such as Bosch, Denso, and Delphi are the primary manufactures to most components and systems going into automobiles. However, due to the complexities of manufacturing LiDAR systems, auto OEMs will need to work with new kinds of suppliers. This will include buying directly from LiDAR sensor manufacturers like Velodyne and Quanergy, as well as optical component players such as Daktronics, AMS AG, Fabrinet, Lumentum, Finisar, II-VI, and Viavi. Use the grey toggles below to dive deeper into these key components, as well as identify the leading component manufacturers.

Source: Loup Ventures

3) $16B market opportunity. Although we believe the inflection point for LiDAR systems will not occur until 2020, we anticipate this market can quickly grow from <$100M today to a $16B market opportunity by 2030 as a higher volume of Level 4/5 autonomous cars enters the road. (See computer perception model here.) Initially, demand will be driven by Mechanical State liDAR, but as Solid State LiDAR manufacturers are able to introduce lower price point systems at scale, we expect these technologies to take over the market. Specifically, we believe MEMs-based scanning LiDAR will be the primary solution for meeting the high volumes and LiDAR performance requirements needed for autonomous vehicle deployments as early as 2020. However, once pure Solid State LiDAR (2D/3D Flash, Optical Array Phased, FMCW) are ready, MEMs technology will lose share to these lower cost and higher reliability technologies.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.