Velodyne Brings Lidar Tech to Spot the Robot Dog
Velodyne Lidar is partnering with Boston Dynamics and has announced plans to get into the autonomous driving game.
Offering 3D imaging of a sensor’s surroundings, Lidar technology can help businesses with more in-depth sensor data. However, it has not yet become mainstream, as cost concerns and scalability have held some industries back until now.
Velodyne and Boston Dynamics
Velodyne will integrate its Lidar tech into Boston Dynamics robot dog, Spot. This isn’t the first time the two companies have worked together.
According to Sally Frykman, Velodyne CMO, the company’s Lidar sensor technology was previously deployed as part of Spot’s Enhanced Autonomy Payload to create more detailed maps of the robot’s surroundings. The new collaboration builds on this initial partnership. Using Lidar sensors, Spot will be able to access a real-time, 360-degree view of its environment that enhances both range and accuracy of vision.
“Current sensor approaches for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) typically utilize a combination of 2D cameras, time-of-flight infrared depth cameras and 2D lidar,” said Frykman. “However, these suites of sensors have challenges that impact overall system efficiency and performance, like limitations in processing object distances in lower and higher light conditions, poor resolution and limited perception range.”
This is where Velodyne comes in, with its advanced 3D lidar increasing AMR’s capacity to monitor and respond to changes in their environment, as well as more rapidly detect potential obstacles or issues; all done without human intervention.
“Combining high-resolution image data with a broad vertical field of view, lidar detects the shape of even low reflectivity objects, regardless of their material and movement,” Frykman said. “This perception capability is critical for advancing safe and effective operation within the broad range of industries that will be revolutionized by autonomous mobile robots.”
As intelligent automation in factories, warehouses, ports, mining and other applications continues to advance, robots equipped with Lidar are capable of performing increasingly complex tasks autonomously, offering a solution to improve worker safety and efficiency.
Lidar and Industry 4.0
What exactly is Lidar, and what does the future hold for it?
According to Velodyne, Lidar has ushered in a new era of autonomous technology with the provision of real-time, surround view imaging; applicable in a wide range of industries spanning not just robotics but also intelligent infrastructure, autonomous vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).
The sensors work through spinning light sources that are directed at a target, with the time taken for the light to bounce off of the object used to determine the distance – adding another dimension to 2D camera imaging solutions.
“Lidar was founded primarily for autonomous vehicles (AVs),” said Sinclair Vass, Velodyne’s chief product officer. “To take the driver out of the car and have the vehicle navigate traffic, you need Lidar, and that’s the real reason it was invented. But what we’re finding now is it’s opening up a myriad of different opportunities – with industrial robotics just one of these.”
Lidar technology is not new in and of itself, but Velodyne positions itself by taking 3D Lidar and making it high performing and scalable; making the sensors themselves smaller and less power-consuming to allow businesses to embed the sensors and scale up use cases. In addition, the company has been focused on making these solutions economically competitive.
“Recently prices have come down, and that’s allowed for the uptake in adoption,” said Vass. “Lidar had plenty of investment put into it, but now we’re starting to reach the point where we’re seeing true commercial deployments of lidar. It’s at the start of a really exciting upcycle.”
An ongoing application of Velodyne’s tech is helping with traffic controls, placing sensors at dangerous intersections and using the data gathered to address the problems seen, though it has plans for industrial and warehouse robotics, as well as a longer-term goal of entering the AV market.
“In the various market segments we go after, there’s been a lot of work in terms of defining how to best use the lidar,” Vass said. “The autonomous driving aspects are taking a long time, so our strategy is to support a lot of these other markets with lidar solutions that allow them to build their business model up. Then, when the autonomous vehicle space starts to take off, we’ll be ready to go with that one too. Long term, the AV market is going to be our single biggest market, it’s just going to take a little longer to get there.”
While we may be on the cusp of a Lidar revolution, Vass cautions that we aren’t there yet.
“The whole industry has to move from innovation to long term scalability moving forward,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done but I strongly believe Lidar will see significant adoption. We just need to keep scaling it, making it more affordable and making sure it’s fully autonomous.”
With ongoing labor shortages and businesses still reeling from the pandemic’s ripple effects, improving efficiency while lowering operational costs has become a growing necessity across industries. As automated solutions are increasingly harnessed to meet this challenge, deploying Lidar technology can offer enhanced levels of performance and vision.