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Electric car startup Lucid is challenging Teslas anti-lidar stance

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Electric car startup Lucid doesn't like the phrase "Tesla killer," but the comparison is hard to avoid. The company raised $1 billion from Saudi Arabia two years ago and is working on the Lucid Air, a high-end battery electric sedan reminiscent of Tesla's Model S. Lucid is scheduled to officially unveil the car in September and begin selling it next year.

One area where Lucid is looking to differentiate itself from its more established electric rival is with its advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) called DreamDrive. Elon Musk has ambitious goals for Tesla's Autopilot technology, but the company has struggled to meet them. One possible factor: Musk has ruled out using lidar, a sensor that is widely used by companies attempting to develop fully driverless vehicles.

"Anyone relying on lidar is doomed," Musk said at an event last year to showcase Tesla's progress in self-driving technology. Musk believes that cameras and radar will be sufficient to achieve full autonomy and that lidar is a "crutch" that distracts companies from pursuing more fundamental breakthroughs.

Lucid doesn't agree. This week, the firm announced that its first vehicle would feature a long-range, high-resolution lidar sensor. The company hopes it will help make DreamDrive an industry leader.

How lidar could help DreamDrive leapfrog Autopilot

EnlargeAndrei Stanescu / Getty Images

When Lucid launches the Air next year, it will feature adaptive cruise control and lane-centering capabilities that Autopilot has had for several years. At first, the Air won't have some of Autopilot's more advanced features, such as automatic lane changes.

But DreamDrive could be superior to Autopilot in other ways. The Air will have a driver-facing camera. When driver assistance is active, the car will monitor the driver's eyes to make sure they are focused on the road. If the driver looks away for too long, the car will issue a warning.

Eugene Lee, Lucid's ADAS chief (and no relation to the author), compares this feature to GM's Super Cruise, widely regarded as an industry-leading ADAS.

Lucid also has five radars that provide 360-degree coverage. That should make Lucid's cross-traffic alert feature more powerful. Tesla cars have only a single forward-facing radar.

And Lucid's lidar could help DreamDrive leapfrog Autopilot on the basic task of not running into stuff. Two Tesla drivers have died after Autopilot didn't slow down for semi trucks crossing the road ahead. A third died when his car crashed into a concrete lane divider. Several other Tesla owners have suffered non-fatal crashes when Autopilot steered them into parked fire trucks or police cars in the travel lane.

To be fair, this problem isn't unique to Tesla. ADAS systems that rely on radar typically ignore stationary objects because radar lacks the resolution to distinguish a stationary car in the travel lane from a car parked next to the road or a metal sign hanging above it. Image detection using cameras depends on machine-learning algorithms that can get confused in unusual situations.

In contrast, lidar is extremely reliable at detecting the location of large, stationary objects like a semi truck or a concrete barrier. Lidar works equally well in all lighting conditions and can detect unusual objects as reliably as common ones. So Lucid may be able to produce an ADAS that crashes into parked cars less often than Autopilot or other ADAS products on the market today.

An ambitious roadmap

Eugene Lee, head of ADAS at Lucid.
Enlarge / Eugene Lee, head of ADAS at Lucid.Lucid

Lucid won't be the first automaker to bring a lidar sensor to market—that honor goes to Audi, which shipped a lidar-enabled A7 a couple of years ago. But Audi's lidar was comparatively primitive—it had just four lines of vertical resolution, while Lucid's lidar will have more than 100 lines. Lucid's lidar will have a field of view of 120 degrees horizontally and 25 degrees vertically, giving it a broad view of the road ahead—though not on the sides or back. Lucid says its lidar will have a Read More – Source