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There Are Too Many Lidar Companies. They Can’t All Survive



Austin Russell may be just 24 years old, but he’s been helming his lidar laser scanner company since dropping out of Stanford at 17, and he’s no longer interested in running Luminar Technologies as a startup. Being a component company—selling a widget to a major supplier, which then sells it to an automaker—won’t do either. Russell wants Luminar to be one of those suppliers, known as the Tier 1 companies, that sell directly to automakers—to compete with, rather than work with, the likes of Bosch and Continental.

That’s a reasonable aspiration, Russell says, because Luminar offers more than a hunk of hardware that shoots lasers into the world and measures how long they take to bounce back. It also provides the software that takes the resulting “point cloud” of data and translates it into useful information: car here, truck there, pedestrian over yonder. What Russell calls “perception as a service” isn’t meant for those developing fully driverless vehicles. Companies like Waymo and Cruise are plenty capable of that classification work. It’s for automakers who want to use lidar to let their customers take their eyes off the road a bit, as on divided highways. Current “semiautonomous” systems require the human always watch the road, because the radars on which they rely have trouble detecting things like stopped firetrucks. Because lidar sees in much greater detail than radar, it could make the cars capable enough to drive without that constant supervision.

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Russell wants Luminar to be the go-to provider for automakers interested in such systems, which he says will start hitting dealer lots in mid-2022. “We want to make it easy for them,” he says. Meaning not just offering the laser but the intelligence that makes it useful.

Luminar’s shift in focus is just one result of the evolution of an industry that barely existed a decade ago but which is now populated by dozens of companies, each promising the gift of sight to the many types of self-driving vehicles poised to hit the streets in the coming years. Of late, the lidar industry has shown signs of consolidation, and some see a shakeout coming. Shahin Farshchi, a partner at venture capital firm Lux who invests in lidar company Aeva—which recently showed off a lidar system that fits on a single chip—wagers that for every 10 companies, three will fold, four will be acquired for modest sums, and the remainder will produce impressive returns.

Luminar’s lidar system could power semi-autonomous driving systems, offering a view of the world around the car and intel on what’s happening.

Courtesy of Luminar


Russell says he has been approached by a half-dozen competitors asking if Luminar would be interested in acquiring them. The biggest self-driving developers, including Waymo, Cruise, Argo, and Aurora, have either acquired lidar companies or developed their own tech in-house. The flow of venture capital has slowed, according to Crunchbase data. And at least one player, Israel’s Oryx, flat out folded last summer.

So far, there’s been a lack of high-profile washouts, and who will fail, merge, or survive is far from clear. That’s largely because the differences among lidar makers consist not just of business strategies but approaches to the technology itself. A developer can fire its laser pulses at 900 or 1,550 nanometers (or anywhere in between), and make its receivers out of silicon or ingaas. Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave lidar, the tech of choice for Aeva, Aurora’s Blackmore, and Cruise’s Strobe, detects an object’s velocity along with its shape. Russell says Luminar has developed the same capability, with a different approach. Australia’s Baraja uses the physics of prisms to see the world. Sense Photonics is one company working on a “flash” lidar, which sends out many laser points simultaneously, taking in information much like a camera.

Moreover, the lidar market will create a honeycomb of niches, based on who is using a vehicle and how (to say nothing of the robotics and other industries). Luminar focuses on long-distance vision, key for highway driving. France’s Valeo has logged $564 million worth of orders for its lidars, which work best for shorter distances. Israeli’s Innoviz has partnered with auto industry supplier Magna and landed a contract to produce sensors for BMW. Velodyne, which pioneered lidar for automotive purposes starting in the 2005 Darpa Grand Challenge, produces a wide array of products, starting at just $100.

“The market leaders are pulling away a bit,” says Mike Ramsey, an industry analyst with Gartner. But the big differences among these companies, and the wide variety of opportunities for success, are keeping many of them alive.

Who gets culled may hinge less on choices about nanometers and materials than on drudgier realities, says Matt Johnson-Roberson, CEO of Refraction AI, which is developing an autonomous delivery vehicle. “I’m less interested in 1,500 nanometers versus 900 versus whatever,” he says, than in whether it works, is affordable, and is available. The industry has collectively failed to hit that mark so far, though it’s getting closer. Whoever makes it first will likely get Johnson-Roberson’s business. “I’ll use whatever’s best,” he says. “I have no brand loyalty.”

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Porsche Talks Taycan Turbo Name, Fake Engine Sound, And More



The Porsche Taycan arrived last summer as the automaker’s first all-electric vehicle. Sales for the electrified sedan started in December 2019, which still makes the Porsche a relatively new model on the market. It also means there are very few Taycans in the hands of customers. Those interested in the car who have questions could head to Porsche’s YouTube channel. The channel has a new series – #AskPorsche – where YouTuber Alex Bangula grills Porsche expert and Porsche Manager Production Marketing, BEV & Strategy, Andreas Becker about the new Taycan, its features, and more, including the Turbo name.

It’s no secret the Taycan lacks a conventional internal combustion engine. That’s the point of the whole dang car; however, Porsche still decided to affix the Turbo badge to the name even though the Taycan lacks a turbocharger. That may seem strange, but to Porsche, the Turbo name is more than a representation of the car’s forced induction. Instead, the Turbo name is given to a model’s top performance trim. Porsche believes the peppier Taycan deserves the Turbo moniker.

Becker also addressed the car’s unique propulsion noise. For Porsche, the sounded needed to be authentic and futuristic while providing feedback to the driver about what the Taycan is doing. It’s not an artificial sound, either. Becker says the whine and warble are the sounds of the powertrain components – motor and transmission – amplified.

Other answers talk about the Taycan’s winter capabilities, including the electric powertrain’s ability to control torque to the wheels five times faster than that of an internal combustion engine car. Becker also talked about the Taycan’s grueling winter testing, too.

The Porsche Taycan is something entirely new from the automaker, so it’s nice to see the automaker take the time to explain the car, its features, and the realities of the electric powertrain. Becker wouldn’t talk about any future, electrified Porsche products beyond what we know already. There is a Taycan Cross Turismo and an all-electric successor to the Macan in development.


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Find a cheap flight with these top apps, both of which are on sale



Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
Plus, enter the giveaway for your chance at $1,000 credit.
Plus, enter the giveaway for your chance at $1,000 credit.
Image: pexels

Remember when Pangea was a thing? If it didn’t break apart, we all could have lived on a giant hunk of landmass, and traveling to our dream countries would not be so difficult. But alas, tectonic plates did their thing, and we’re now divided into continents and forced to pay for flights to travel from one continent to another.

Luckily, not all is lost. Mashable readers can enter the Airline Gift Card Giveaway for the chance to win a $1,000 gift card that you can use towards the airline of your choice.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Southwest loyalist or an American Airlines fanatic. All you have to do is enter using your email or social media account, and you’re in the running to clinch the prize. You can get even more chances if you share the link with your friends and family.

If you don’t win, you can still save a ton on flights with these deals on flight search apps. It’s not Pangea, but it will work. Take your pick of the following, which are both on sale as of this writing:

Dollar Flight Club Premium: 1-Year Subscription

Dollar Flight Club Premium is an email/app subscription service that alerts its over 800,000 members about the cheapest flight deals available online. When you join the program, you can set up to five departure regions, and you’ll automatically get notifications on the cheapest airfares so you can book your dream vacation ASAP. In addition to alerts, you’ll also get exclusive perks and discounts from top brand partners, including Topo Designs, Huckberry, Fodor’s Travel, and more. Get a one-year subscription on sale for only $9.

Find a cheap flight with these top apps, both of which are on sale

Matt’s Flights Premium Subscriptions

Featured on The New York Times, Thrillist, and The Hustle, Matt’s Flights meticulously scours the internet for flight deals round the clock and filters the cheapest deals, mostly due to airline mistakes or rock-bottom sales. You’ll then get a list of the craziest deals available, allowing you to take your pick and travel for almost free. With a premium subscription, you also get personal one-on-one flight and travel planning support from Matt, personalized airfares, as well as receive five times more deals than free members. Grab a lifetime premium subscription for $199.

Find a cheap flight with these top apps, both of which are on sale


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Automotive IQ Guides: Electric Vehicles



Faced with tightening emissions standards, especially in Europe and China, the automotive industry is rapidly scaling-up its eMobility efforts.

In so doing manufacturers have a raft of technologies they can call upon:

  • Mild hybrid electric vehicles (MHEV)
  • Hybrid electric vehicles (HEV)
  • Plugin hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV)
  • Battery electric vehicles (BEV)

But which architecture is best suited to the task?

Each of these solutions has its own challenges and benefits, which automakers need to weigh up within the context of constantly evolving emissions standards, customer acceptance and corporate strategy.

What electric cars do manufacturers bring to market? Hybrid cars versus electric vehicles

The current production forecasts show that many carmakers are abandoning their ‘technology neutrality’ approach as they embrace electrification. The top 29 OEMs have announced plans to invest more than $300bn in scaling up xEV production over the next 10 years.

And with the new 95g/km per vehicle CO2 emissions having come into force in Europe on January 1, 2020, many manufacturers are turning to the 48V mild hybrid technology to help them meet the new regulations.

Why opt for 48V mild hybrid technology?

The 48V MHEV has several advantages over other electrification strategies:

  • The system is relatively simple and cost effective to engineer or even retrofit to existing platforms – especially if a belt-starter-generator (BSG) is fitted in the P0 Topology
  • The architecture offers good cost versus benefit returns, with between 12 to 20 percent emissions savings possible
  • The technology is scalable – from P0 to P4 to meet specific cost and emissions strategies
  • Using higher powered starter generators, such as the 48V 30kW BSG Continental announced in 2019, the MHEV can achieve limited electric-only driving, opening up the possibility for the MHEV to become a fully-fledged HEV

While sales are expected to grow by as much as 40 percent per year, there remains a question mark over the architecture’s viability past 2025 when emissions limits are set to be reduced by a further 15 percent. And with Volkswagen’s ID3 electric car entering the market at under €30,000, consumers may very well opt for this full electric vehicle option instead.

Nevertheless, there may be a respite for the technology. With pricing that could be as low as $9,000, Valeo has developed a full-time 48V EV, the Double 100, that may create a sustainable, novel niche in congested cities such as those found in China.

Surprisingly, in China, where the government is driving BEV volumes, the hybrid electric vehicle market has seen the most growth over the past year – even though in Europe HEV sales remain stagnant.

Sales of Japanese brands’ hybrids increased by about 30 percent in 2019 to more than 220,000, making HEVs one of the fastest-growing market segments, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. have increased overall sales on the back of this architecture in a market that has fallen almost every month since June 2018.

Consumer support of Hybrid Electric Vehicles is based on familiarity

Although HEVs, with their costly hybrid powertrains and short electric-only driving range, might not be the first choice for manufacturers desperate to meet emissions targets, they do have the support of the consumer.

This support is due to the fact that, although the vehicle is electrified, it does not require charging and for all intents and purposes operates as a traditional fossil-fueled vehicle. The HEV was also the first electrified powertrain to reach significant volumes, and has gained user trust thanks to its increasing familiarity.

While the consumer may appreciate the familiarity offered by the HEV, the limited electric-only range is problematic. The solution lies with increasing the electric capacity of the powertrain and enabling charging of the higher capacity batteries, thus creating the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

The PHEV is integral to manufacturers’ electric vehicle strategy

PHEVs appeal to consumers who regularly drive longer distances, as well as single-car owners. They may also find a growing market in the rising number of cities that plan to ban ICEs in the city center.

Sales growth for PHEVs in most markets will be slower than that for other xEVs, hampered by the higher cost of the larger capacity batteries. Nonetheless, many OEMs will maintain a two-track BEV-PHEV strategy, with some markets continuing to incentivize PHEVs while building out their electrified vehicle infrastructure.

According to a 2020 report on electric vehicles by Boston Consulting Group, battery-powered electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids will capture almost a quarter of the market by 2030; up from the previously projected global market share of about a fifth.

In the US alone, almost 40 percent more people are considering a PHEV, and 20 percent more considering a BEV, in 2018 than in 2010.

However, as charging infrastructure improves and consumers’ anxiety over range and time to charge recedes, the BEV will surpass both the PHEV and HEV to become the dominant electrification technology leading up to the next decade.

Manufacturers and governments adopt creative solutions to the challenges faced by battery electric vehicles

There are four key elements driving the BEV market, each influenced by a number of variables in a complex matrix that is often highly regionalized:

  • Technology
  • Compliance
  • Industry perspective
  • Customer perspective

Frequently cited as one of the key factors dissuading consumers from adopting EVs in greater numbers is the initial cost to purchase – often discussed in terms of pricing parity with ICE-powered vehicles.

This is being addressed at all levels by manufacturers, suppliers and governments. In the short-term, government subsidies seek to make BEVs more affordable thereby boosting the economies of scale to the point where the technology becomes self-sustaining.

The impact incentives have on EV sales was well demonstrated when the Chinese government cut incentives in 2019. The reduction of EV subsidies, by more than 60 percent in June 2019, triggered a drop of 1.2 percent in annual sales of BEVs, to around 972,000 units, over the 2018 volume.

With the battery pack making up anything from 25 to 50 percent of the total cost of a BEV there has been an industry-wide drive to slash prices.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s annual report released in January 2020, from 2010 to 2019 lithium-ion battery-pack prices have decreased from $1,100/kWh to $156/kWh – a decline of 87 percent. From 2018 to 2019 alone, prices dropped by 13 percent.

The report also suggested that the key $100/kWh could be achieved as soon as 2023. At which point it is theorized that cost parity with ICE-powered vehicles will be possible. Although a report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Energy Initiative argues that the $100/kWh cannot be achieved even by 2030.

Based on battery raw-material prices alone, MIT’s cost analysis indicates that a midsize battery-electric vehicle with a range of 200-plus miles will likely remain upwards of $5,000 more expensive to manufacture than a similar ICE vehicle through 2030.

Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure and its limitations

Another commonly cited drawback to BEVs is the availability of infrastructure related to the limited range and lengthy charge times of earlier electric cars.

To date, charging has required the vehicle to be physically connected to a charging station. However, there are several companies working on inductive charging, which allows vehicles to recharge their batteries without the need to plug in. It also has the ability to charge on the move – so drivers can be continually topping up as they travel, which would eliminate range anxiety.

In January 2020 Renault announced its INCIT-EV project that aims to encourage the development of electromobility in Europe. This initiative includes induction-charging trials that are scheduled to start in the second half of 2022. These trials will evaluate:

  • A dynamic induction charging system for the urban environment
  • A dynamic induction charging system for long-range and suburban applications
  • A charging hub in a car park for car-share vehicles
  • Low voltage bidirectional charging (for two-wheeled vehicles as well) and dynamic charging in taxi lanes located at the airport and central station in Zaragoza, Spain

Induction, also known as wireless charging, is capable of high power transfer with impressive efficiency. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have been able to transmit 120 kW over 150mm with a 97 percent efficiency.

General electrified and electric vehicle adoption trends that could play out leading up to 2020

The type of electrification and adoption curve for electric vehicles vary by market, depending primarily on total cost of ownership (TCO), including the price of the vehicle, the number of miles (or kilometers) driven and local fuel and electricity costs.

However, with a combined 50 percent share of the worldwide auto market, China and Europe play a significant role in shaping global EV trends. The short-term direction in the US is unclear as policy differences between the current administration and the State of California have yet to be resolved.

Furthermore, mass-market smaller vehicles such as B-segment superminis and C-segment family-sized hatchbacks, will likely adopt hybrid powertrains over expensive electric vehicle platforms as a more effective mainstream strategy. However, this could change should the battery-pack costs dip below the $100/kWh.

Due to the cost, ICE and hybrid vehicles are also likely to dominate major emerging markets across Asia, Middle East, Latin America and, eventually, Africa for years to come. Cost will remain king in these lower per capita income markets, which will probably extend the life of ICE and hybrid-powered vehicles.

In an environment where regulatory transition is creating upheaval in the industry it is important that industry professionals avail themselves of the latest information regarding electrification and electric vehicle trends, thus Automotive IQ will be offering the following events specific to the topic:


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