Alibaba’s New Lidar Could Aid Self-Driving Vehicles

Will Knight in MIT writes about the improvement to delivery robots being tested in China, including a lidar that is expected to be far more accurate than current models on autonomous vehicles.

Engineers are upgrading or redesigning robots constantly to become the flawless, driverless, problem-solving assistants the public expects. To that end, China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba, is testing the world’s first driverless vehicle equipped with solid-state lidar.

The road-going delivery robot is being tested by Cainiao, an Alibaba logistics subsidiary using technology developed by another Chinese company, RoboSense. most delivery robots typically navigate using cameras and radar, which are much cheaper than lidar. A system equipped with laser ranging can see the world in greater detail and should be able to get around with fewer bumps and bruises.

RoboSense’s system uses microelectromechanical (MEMS) mirrors to guide the system’s laser beams. By driving down the cost of lidar sensors—one of the most expensive parts of a self-driving car—solid-state lidar could make the cars much more accessible. This shows Alibaba’s commitment to AI and robotics. Alibaba, the largest online merchandiser in the world, is even surpassing Amazon in sales and profits.