What would the downfall of Elon Musks look like?

Lidar: VW invests billions, Musk thinks the technology is "downfall"

Argo AI is a company that manufactures lidar systems for self-driving cars. Lidar is a technology in which the distances to objects in the vicinity are measured with light beams.

The company is now even testing the lidar system it has developed in road traffic. It should be as good as no other system in the categories of range, sharpness and level of detail, says CEO Bryan Salesky.

Tesla boss Elon Musk considers lidar sensors to be "the downfall", while VW and Ford are already investing billions in the company.

In 2017, Bryan Salesky still considered lidar systems to be little more than unproven concepts. But out of the mass of many startups with immature ideas, the CEO of Argo AI - a company that develops software for autonomous cars - noticed one company: Princeton Lightwave had actually developed a working prototype. Salensky took over the startup from New Jersey, and four years later this prototype has now become a finished product.

On May 4th, Argo AI announced that the lidar system was ready to go into operation. The prototype, originally designed by Princeton, is now called "Argo Lidar" - and, like many of its competitors in the lidar market, is said to be a technological breakthrough. "With the introduction of Argo Lidar," the company said in a press release, "Argo AI has overcome the hurdles that prevent most competitors from commercializing autonomous delivery and driving services."

Put simply, lidar systems use light waves to measure distances from objects, similar to infrared radar. In the case of self-driving cars, they should record the area around the car and prevent accidents from occurring. Many car manufacturers are convinced that the sensors are an essential tool for autonomous driving. Only Tesla relies on cameras and radars, Elon Musk thinks lidar sensors are nonsense. "Anyone who relies on lidar is doomed," Musk said at Tesla's 2019 Autonomy Day.

"Hard to beat in terms of range, sharpness and level of detail"

Salesky and Argo AI see it differently. The Princeton prototype made a lasting impression on the CEO. “We brought the skills we had at Argo together with those that Princeton brought with us. Together, this combination resulted in the ideal connection, ”Salesky said in an interview with Business Insider in May 2021. The Argo Lidar is better than the competition in three ways: range, sharpness and attention to detail.

Salesky emphasized that the system can detect objects more than 400 meters away. This means that Argo AI does not have the greatest range - its competitor Luminar is said to have a range of 500 meters - but it halves this number for objects that do not reflect light waves well. For Argo Lidar, on the other hand, a low reflectivity shouldn't be a big challenge, at least claims the Senior Director of Hardware and Firmware, Zach Little, in a blog post. Argo's lidar system doesn't need a lot of light, it can even register a single photon. A photon is the smallest unit of light that can be measured. “Compared to other lidar sensors, with Argo Lidar's single photon detection, we can see cars painted black at twice the distance,” Little wrote.

Argo has tested its autonomous driving system in a total of six major cities, including Miami, Austin and Washington DC. According to Salesky, these cities are some of the most difficult areas to drive for self-driving vehicles. The company is now planning to continue these tests permanently: Together with Ford, Argo wants to start an autonomous driving and delivery service by the end of 2022. Alongside Volkswagen, Ford is one of Argo's two investors. Both companies each own around 40 percent of the company. Most recently, the German automaker invested almost 2.1 billion euros in the startup and its lidar sensors. As a result of the deal with VW and Ford, Argo's workforce will now be increased by 40 percent to 700. The company's valuation is currently around 5.7 billion euros.

Argo is confident that the sensor will give the company an edge over the crowded field of startups, tech giants and automakers trying to replace human drivers with computers. “We believe that Argo Lidar is a huge competitive advantage for us,” says Salesky.

This article was translated from English and edited by Julia Knopf. You can read the original here.