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On the radar: Nissan stays cool on lidar-tech, together with Tesla

YOKOHAMA (Reuters) – Nissan Motor Co Ltd said on Thursday it would, for now, stick to self-driving technology that uses radar sensors and cameras, the avoidance of lidar, or light-based sensors due to the high cost and limited capabilities.

FILE PHOTO: A Nissan logo is displayed on the 89th Geneva motor show in Geneva, Switzerland, 5 March 2019. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

The Japanese automaker unveiled updated self-driving technology, a month after Tesla Inc. ‘ s Chief Executive Elon Musk called lidar “a fool’s errand”, berating the technology are expensive and unnecessary.

Nissan, which wants to be self-driving cars on the streets of the city in 2020, has long shunned lidar, a relatively new technology for cars that have recently been the subject of an influx in investment by many of its rivals.

“At the time, lidar lacks the potential for exceeding the capabilities of the latest technology in the field of radar and cameras,” Tetsuya Iijima, general manager of advanced technology development for automated driving, told reporters at the headquarters of Nissan.

“It would be great if lidar technology was on the level that we can use in our systems, but that it is not. There is an imbalance between the costs and the possibilities.”

Iijima revealed Nissan’s own most recent self-driving technology, which enables hands-free driving in separate lanes on highways on pre-defined routes.

The technology, to be released in Japan later this year, makes use of radar and sonar sensors, along with cameras to compile the three-dimensional mapping data that are required for cars to “see” with their environment.

Apart from sonar, side radar and around-view monitoring cameras, Nissan said it has developed a “tri-cam”, which focuses on three points on the front and on the sides of the vehicle for the capture of a large area display.

Tesla is also depending on cameras and radars for the self-driving technology.

Nissan wants to add its self-driving technology to more affordable models to boost sales and recover from a profit slump. When reporting earnings earlier this week, the automaker said it had hit “rock bottom” in the aftermath of a financial scandal involving the deposed President, Carlos Ghosn.

FOOL’S MESSAGE?

Lidar is currently used by companies such as General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co. and Alphabet, Inc Waymo as car makers and tech firms race to develop self-driving cars.

Lidar technology uses light-based sensors that fire about 1 million laser pulses a second as it collects measurements that are analysed and processed to 3D-models and maps.

More than $1 billion in corporate-and private investment is pumped in approximately 50 lidar startups in the past three years, according to a Reuters analysis in March of publicly available investment data.

Still, it is a technology in motion.

In the first instance, with the help of extensive spinning devices placed on the roof of cars, lidar developers are transferred to more compact solid-state devices that can be mounted on other parts of a car. These now sell for less than $10,000 in limited quantities, and on a large scale are expected to ultimately sell for as little as $200 in mass production.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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