Lidar’s future is dubious until its price and size are cut to fractions of their existing values, as Voyant hopes. Lidars won’t be ubiquitous as long as they’re sandwich-sized gadgets that cost thousands of dollars, but Voyant has gathered funds to bring their smaller, cheaper, more readily made, yet still highly capable lidar to market.
In 2019, the goal was to use silicon photonics to compress lidar from a sandwich to fingernail size. The real challenge for practically every lidar business is lowering the price between a powerful laser and a capable receptor. It’s just not easy to make something cheap enough that, like an LED or touchscreen, you can quickly put several of them in a vehicle that costs less than $30,000.
“Every other system is filled with a lot of expensive stuff. Our vision is a mass-producible chip, like anything else. What people use as a laser source generally costs a lot, needs assembly and calibration, there are lens issue. Our laser sources are basically out of date, slightly refurbished datacom lasers the size of sesame seeds. These things cost like $5 each, the laser path costs $30, something like that.”Peter Stern, CEO
UP.Partners led the $15.4 million A round, with participation from LDV Capital and Contour Ventures. The funds will be used to move the company closer to production by putting its development kits in the hands of partners. The “Lark” unit is the more traditional of the two, bouncing the laser signal off a galvo mirror. In contrast, the “Sparrow” unit employs a 2D beam steering technique that further reduces the need for mechanical components.
Stern stated that they will produce approximately 200 units for partners in 2022 before accepting commercial orders in 2023. The automotive world may have taken notice by then. Still, if Voyant’s strategy succeeds, it will have pushed a significant portion of the industrial market out of reach of companies producing more critical, more expensive units.