Alibaba & RoboSense Partner on Solid-State Lidar

Cainiao Network, part of the Chinese conglomerate Alibaba Group, and Lidar specialist RoboSense are partnering to launch G Plus, an unmanned logistics vehicle that utilizes solid-state Lidar technology.

The vehicle’s solid-state Lidar technology — RS-LiDAR-M1Pre — was developed by RoboSense, with the two companies claiming this is the first time solid-state Lidar has been officially used in the development of an unmanned vehicle.

RoboSense partnered with Alibaba to provide delivery vehicles with solid-state Lidar for all G Plus unmanned logistics cars, which are designed to be mass-produced.

The G Plus is equipped with three RS-LiDAR-M1Pres, two in the front and one in the rear, allowing the unmanned vehicles to see the direction of travel.

The Lidar can determine the shape, distance, travel speed and direction of travel of other vehicles, people and other objects, as well as the exact areas on which roads can be driven.

The unmanned cars and trucks can also be equipped with different smart devices according to demand, which means the cars could serve as courier vehicles, mobile self-pickup stations, a mobile coffee vending cart or other uses.

Driver assistance systems that enable autonomous driving at Level 3 — the level where the operator monitors the system and can intervene when necessary — and upwards need at least three types of sensor systems, camera, radar and Lidar to be effective.

Previously, Lidar for automated driving was conventional mechanical rotary Lidar, only able to meet the functional requirements for an autonomous vehicle, but considered too expensive and unstable for mass production.

RoboSense COO Mark Qiu told The Connected Car that parts and components needed to be reduced in size in order to improve stability and pricing for mass production.

“The micro mirror solution used in RoboSense’s RS-LiDAR-M1Pre only requires a set of laser emitters and receivers to scan through the MEMS micro mirror in both directions, reaching 0.2 degree vertical angle resolution throughout the field of view,” he said.

Qiu explained that in contrast, traditional mechanical multi-beam Lidar requires more than a hundred laser emitters and receivers to achieve the same effect, which greatly increases the material cost and manpower, as well as reducing production.

“Performing a mechanical rotation scan also drastically reduces product reliability, he said. “Therefore, the advantages of MEMS solid-state technology are obvious — improving performance and stability, and significantly reducing cost of Lidar at the same time.”

Qiu said accelerating the mass production and commercialization of unmanned logistics vehicles, improving efficiency, and reducing cost are the initial goals of the cooperation between Alibaba and RoboSense.

He noted China has exceeded delivering 100 million parcels per day since May 2017 and is still growing, which makes traditional delivery methods increasingly difficult to meet growing needs.

“Chinese consumers are also increasingly demanding quick delivery turnaround and service, with logistics companies like Cainiao facing high labor costs when responding to these demands,” Qiu said. “Cainiao and other e-commerce companies have begun to layout the plan for unmanned logistics vehicles to solve these problems.”

He said the popularity of unmanned logistics vehicles had the potential to transfer human resources costs to machine costs.

“The use of unmanned logistics vehicles will significantly increase the speed of distribution, leading to the growth of e-commerce, which will in turn drive the demand for unmanned logistics vehicles,” Qiu said. “There is a huge market for unmanned logistics vehicles in the US, China, and Europe, with explosive growth forecast for the next few years.”

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209.

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