Is Lidar a ‘Fool’s Errand,’ As Elon Musk Says? Nissan Thinks So

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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Nissan revealed ProPILOT 2, the latest iteration of the brand’s autonomous driving technology. Set for series production inside the Japanese-market Skyline model, ProPILOT 2 enables drivers to go handsfree while on a predetermined navigation route.

  • Nissan has unveiled ProPilot 2, its latest semi-autonomous driving technology.
  • Like Tesla, Nissan isn’t using LiDAR and instead is relying on RADAR, SONAR and Optical sensors.

Notably, the Nissan system achieves Level 3 automated driving without lidar — a technology that automated driving leaders like General Motors and Google’s Waymo believe is integral to cars being capable of driving themselves.

Shirking lidar falls inline with Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s sentiment on the technology. In fact, Musk went so far as to call a “fool’s errand” in April, adding “anyone relying on lidar is doomed.”

What’s Nissan’s opposition to implementing lidar in its suite of automated driving tech? According to Tetsuya Iijima, Nissan’s general manager of advanced technology development for automated driving, lidar fails to exceed the capabilities of radar and cameras.

“It would be fantastic if lidar technology was at the level that we could use it in our systems, but it’s not.” Iijima told Automotive News. “There’s an imbalance between its cost and its capabilities.”

Nissan’s ProPILOT 2 relies on radar, sonar, digital cameras, and high-definition 3D maps to handle self-driving duties. | Photo: Nissan

 

Lidar, which shoots laser pulses up to one million times per second to digitally build a 3D model of its surroundings, has historically been very expensive and bulky. You’d recognize lidar as those big, spinning devices often mounted on the roofs of self-driving test vehicles. These, as you can imagine, aren’t suitable to consumer cars.

Due to an influx in investment in lidar tech in recent years, the systems have been morphed into compact, solid-state setups. Startups have been able to whittle down the cost lidar systems to around $10,000. Some predict that price could go as low as $200, if put into mass production.

Instead of lidar, Nissan’s ProPILOT 2 uses radar, sonar, digital cameras, and high-definition 3D maps to tackle self-driving duties. The Japanese automaker wants to keep the cost of its ProPILOT systems down because it aims to implement them across its lineup. This, in the hopes self-driving tech will spur sales and help drag the company out of a decline in profits.


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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