Lidar Sensors the Key to Automotive Safety Advancements

Written by

Robin Lefferts

Published on

Sep 21, 2022

Last updated

Sep 21, 2022

We’ve all heard about self-driving cars, the promise and the pitfalls of the technology that strives to do the driving for you while increasing safety levels. On the path to a fully automated vehicle, there have been many safety advancements in the automotive industry, including collision warning, traffic sign recognition, and adaptive cruise control. These innovations fall under the umbrella of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), designed to ensure safety in the event a driver is unaware of a pending hazard. At the heart of ADAS technologies lie advanced sensors, many of them based on laser imaging, detection, and ranging (lidar) sensors that allow for 3D imaging of the world around the vehicle.

Auto makers are increasingly using lidar sensors to power advanced detection systems for luxury vehicles, but the technology is on the verge of hitting the mass market. Cepton, Inc. (NASDAQ: CPTN) has been leading the charge to mainstream lidar systems with its patented lidar technologies. Cepton has pioneered the use of lidar in the automotive sector. In 2019, the company was the recipient of a significant ADAS lidar series production award with Koito on the General Motors business. Cepton is also leading the way in scaling up lidar for mass-market deployments and has expanded its lidar use cases across smart infrastructure.
 
A Brief History of Lidar

Lidar technology was originally developed in 1961, not long after the invention of the laser as a means to track satellites. The technology has come a long way since, but the foundation is the same. A laser is bounced off of something and sensors precisely measure the time it takes to return, giving a reading on the distance between the object and the source of the laser. Early applications of lidar included range finding for military targeting and measuring clouds for meteorology. In 1971, the Apollo 15 mission used it to map the surface of the moon.

Since then, the technology has advanced and its uses have greatly expanded. It is the most detailed and accurate system for digital mapping, able to produce precise 3D models from the air or on the ground. Lidar has applications in smart traffic infrastructure, electronic tolling, smart retail, security, public safety, industrial automation/robotics, aerospace, shipping, and more. It is an incredibly versatile technology, but the largest mass market application may be in the automotive industry. Newer cars these days are capable of staying within the lane and safely behind the car in front, in large part thanks to lidar.

Ceptons Lidar Innovations

Cepton, Inc. was founded in 2016 by a couple of electrical engineers from Stanford - CEO Jun Pei, Ph.D and CTO Mark McCord, Ph.D. They had deep and diverse experience in the optics, electronics, and lidar industries and thought they could create a more reliable, more cost-effective, and higher performing system for automobiles than what was currently on the market. Cepton introduced its first product in 2017, further refining it over the next couple of years before entering into proof-of-concept projects in 2019. 

Shortly thereafter the company, through its partnership with Koito, secured a sizable ADAS lidar series production award from General Motors. Koito, licensing Cepton’s technology for lidar sensing, is the sole supplier for the rollout.

How did Cepton, in about three years of existence, win such a high profile contract? In short, the company hit its goal of developing a more reliable, higher performance, cost-effective platform capable of meeting and exceeding auto makers’ specifications. Cepton made good choices in the design phase, boosting performance in key areas while simultaneously limiting material and production costs.
Source: Cepton, Inc. Investor Presentation

Importantly, Cepton makes some of the smallest, most compact lidars for ADAS applications. It can be placed behind the windshield, in the side mirrors, all over the vehicle body, and even in a headlight. This level of adaptability allows auto makers a wide range of options in their vehicle design.

Cepton’s partnership with Koito remains crucial to the company’s penetration of the vast automotive market. Koito is the world’s largest exterior lighting supplier for the industry, and through its relationship with Cepton has moved aggressively into the ADAS space. Over the course of the companies’ five years of collaboration, Koito has invested $100 million into Cepton. It’s a win-win for the companies. Cepton’s technology has enabled Koito access to the growing ADAS market, and Koito’s depth of experience gave Cepton entry into the world of Tier 1 automakers. 

The two companies recently announced plans to expand the relationship far beyond the initial focus on the ADAS series production award. Koito and Cepton are bringing more lidar products into the automotive pipeline and intend to jointly conduct go-to-market activities with a range of customers, starting with Japanese automotive OEMs. More recently, the two companies announced the intent to further deepen the relationship with an additional $100 million investment from Koito, designed to fund Cepton’s next stage of growth as it scales its lidar solutions for mass deployment.

Both the Koito relationship and the resulting production award serve to validate Cepton’s lidar technologies on a very large and very visible scale, which could help pave the way for more OEM partnerships and production contracts.

The Upshot

There is much more to discuss about Cepton’s patented lidar technologies and its plans for near-term mass commercialization, both within the automotive sector and outside of it in areas like smart cities and smart industrial applications. For now, know that Cepton technology will be hitting showrooms with one of the world’s largest car manufacturers very soon. The company is actively involved in discussions with other potential customers, and is anticipating a fairly steep revenue ramp once commercialization begins.

According to Verified Market Research, the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) market size was valued at $25.92 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $55.66 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 10.8% from 2022 to 2030. These figures don’t take into account the potential for automated vehicles. Suffice to say that the opportunity is large, and Cepton appears to be on the right track in this early stage of the game. Stay tuned.

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