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Lidar Leading the Way to Safe Self-Driving Cars

NetworkNewsWire Editorial Coverage: Once only a concept seen in movies, the world of autonomous driving is fast becoming a bona fide reality. Until now, only a few autonomous features have been available and limited to high-end vehicles, but the day of mass adoption and ubiquity is near. As one can imagine, the highest importance is on safety. Companies are taking different approaches to achieve that, with engineers busily fusing software, connectivity and operations to produce vehicles that can safely maneuver everything from traffic jams and pedestrians to freeways and dirt roads. If you ask Cepton Inc. (NASDAQ: CPTN) (Profile), the road to safe and effective self-driving cars goes through lidar (short for light detection and ranging), and judging by the response to Cepton recently becoming public on the Nasdaq, Wall Street agrees. Cepton, which develops and manufactures cutting-edge lidar products, is working with major automakers such as General Motors Company (NYSE: GM) and Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) to bring autonomous driving to everyone. In fact, Cepton has already secured the largest series production award in the lidar industry to support GM’s Ultra Cruise program. Others in the sector are also focusing on the space, as companies such as Luminar Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ: LAZR) look to enhance their presence, while Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), the world’s most well-known electric car brand, has bucked the lidar trend altogether with a camera-only approach for its autonomous driving technology.

  • Cepton’s turnkey MMT(R) lidar products overcome challenges related to performance, cost, reliability and integration.
  • Cepton has the largest series production award in the lidar industry to support GM’s Ultra Cruise program.
  • Cepton is in discussions with all of world’s top-10 automotive OEMs.
  • Japan’s Koito Manufacturing, a tier-1 automotive supplier, has invested twice in Cepton.

Here Come AVs

Get ready to start hearing plenty more about autonomous vehicles. More than 80 companies are testing self-driving cars. Market research firm IHS forecasts adoption of AVs to gain traction in 2025, with sales topping 12 million units by 2035 and including nearly all vehicle sales after 2050. According to Nissan, 55% of small businesses believe they will operate fully autonomous fleets within two decades. Everybody is headed to autonomous, and lidar is the way to get there safely.

Lidar is a technology for determining distances by targeting an object with a laser, bouncing the light off it, and measuring the time for the reflected light beam to return to the receiver. The data is then processed to create three-dimensional representations of the surrounding area. It’s like radar only using light waves that produce crisper scans. Many believe the approach to be integral to the future of autonomous vehicles because its qualities overcome shortcomings of cameras and radar used in AVs today. The combination of highly effective lidar and the geometric growth in the AV market has sparked an inferno of interest in lidar technology companies.

A pioneer in the industry, Cepton Inc. (NASDAQ: CPTN) has differentiated itself from peers with its innovative MMT (micro-motion technology) that overcomes challenges which have plagued the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (“ADAS”) and AV markets related to performance, cost, reliability and vehicle integration. Cepton delivers a comprehensive  lidar solution portfolio covering hardware and software, inclusive of proprietary state-of-the-art ASICs and key optoelectronic components. The turnkey products consist of Vista X, Vista T, Vista P and Nova. Pricing is in the hundreds of dollars, rather than thousands like others out there today, making Cepton products vastly more appealing to car makers.

Cepton’s MMT lidar design is genius in its simplicity. The process uses OSRAM’s 905 nm wavelength lasers for high brightness with minimal energy consumption and direct Time of Flight (“TOF”) technology to measure the distance of objects, a proven automotive-grade light source that is available in mass production quantities. MMT doesn’t rely on mirrors or rotating parts as some of the competition does, making it frictionless, which eliminates concerns about wear and tear. Plus Cepton’s lidar is the first and only lidar that can be mounted inside the car, behind the windshield for mass deployment in consumer vehicles. In aggregate, Cepton’s low-cost, automotive-grade lidar solutions are safe and reliable, offering high resolution and performance across multiple installation options.

World-Class Partners, Wall Street Cheers

Cepton’s innovative technology has captured the attention of all the key players in the automotive industry. The Silicon Valley-based company is reportedly in discussions with all of the top-10 automotive original equipment manufacturers, including Volkswagen, Hyundai, Nissan, Stellantis, Honda, GM, Ford and Toyota. In addition, Cepton is also actively addressing opportunities in the trucking, smart industrials, smart city and robotics segments.

Cepton also has a world-class partner, Koito Manufacturing, a Japanese tier-1 automotive lighting manufacturer. Koito has invested in Cepton twice since 2020, including a $50 million investment ahead of the public listing of Cepton. The company recently joined the Nasdaq via a SPAC transaction with Growth Capital Acquisition Corp., which was completed on Feb. 10, 2022. Cepton rang Nasdaq’s opening bell on February 17, which was followed by a spike in trading volume and a run in the stock that saw shares soar 343.5% in one day. The spike is a reflection of Wall Streets’ love for lidar and the coming AV boom; the stock has since settled down into an attractive range.

Put It on Ultra Cruise

Cepton was incorporated and the team assembled for the specific purpose of creating a mass market lidar system. Cepton’s mission has now been vetted and validated by some of the biggest names in the global automotive industry. The partnership with Koito led to a deal with GM where the automaker will exclusively use Cepton lidar sensors in vehicles featuring its new Ultra Cruise technology. By Cepton’s calculations, the agreement is the largest ADAS lidar series production win in automotive industry by far. The bar is now set, and Cepton management is optimistic about new contract wins on the horizon.

Ultra Cruise is trumpeted as groundbreaking ADAS tech in line to support GM’s goal of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. Designed to ultimately enable hands-free driving in 95% of all driving scenarios, Ultra Cruise eventually can be used on every paved road in the United States and Canada. With the availability of Ultra Cruise in 2023, GM’s use of lidar represents the first time lidar technology will be available in mass market cars.

More Than Just Auto

Lidar was developed by NASA for measuring objects in space, and now it is making its way into everyday use on Earth. Its use in developing safe autonomous vehicles is the low-hanging fruit and largest market opportunity today, but the applications don’t stop with AVs. With insight and innovation, Cepton is capitalizing on opportunities outside of automotive.

Cepton is already penetrating markets outside the automotive space, with more than 100 projects in the books and 160-plus opportunities in the pipeline. Notably, Cepton has entered the security space through a partnership this month with security solution provider Bowler Pons Solutions Consultants LLC to deploy a cutting-edge, lidar-enabled 3D monitoring system. Using Cepton’s MMT Vista(R)-P sensors, Bowler Pons has launched a new cost-effective system for detecting, tracking and classifying objects to assess threat risk based upon predefined characteristics and rules.

Bowler Pons cofounder and managing partner Mark Holmes says his team is discussing the new system with its customers. He sees a perfect fit for customers that don’t need a full 360-degree spinning lidar but would benefit from a high-resolution visual capture of the environment and activities. “Cepton’s directional, nonrotational lidar design has also made the Vista-P lidars easy to integrate across multiple environments and use cases,” he said.

Safety Top Priority as Paradigm Shifts

It’s going to take time for autonomous vehicles to become the norm, as many people may feel uncomfortable without being in control. However, the numbers don’t lie, and it seems plausible that self-driving cars could reduce the number of accidents on U.S. highways. Like it or not, human error is usually the culprit. Cepton is joining other companies that are looking to change the paradigm, and lidar may be the key.

General Motors Company (NYSE: GM) is a true pioneer in the hands-free driving business. The company launched its Super Cruise option in 2017 as the industry’s first true hands-free driver-assistance technology, allowing drivers to travel hands-free on more than 200,000 roads in North America. Super Cruise has proven its value, with about 10 million miles driven on Super Cruise through July 2021. Super Cruise remains on track to be available on 22 models across GM brands by 2023, while Ultra Cruise, which will enable door-to-door hands free driving, enters production in 2023 as the next advancement in GM’s ADAS technology.

Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) is active in several areas of autonomous driving, including but not limited to its Self-Driving Research Program designed to help businesses understand how autonomous vehicles could benefit their operations. Ford has also been testing self-driving technology in major cities across the U.S. in partnership with Argo AI. The company has announced plans to investing around $7 billion in autonomous vehicles through 2025 as part of its mobility initiatives.

Luminar Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ: LAZR) has built an advanced hardware and software platform to enable its more than 50 industry partners, including the majority of global automotive OEMs. From Volvo Cars for consumer vehicles and Daimler Truck AG for commercial trucks to tech partners NVIDIA and Intel’s Mobileye, Luminar is the first automotive technology company to enable next-generation safety and autonomous capabilities for production vehicles. Last month, Luminar partnered with Mercedes-Benz to accelerate the development of highly automated driving technologies for Mercedes passenger cars.

Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) offers a Level 2 autonomous system that is called “full self driving” but requires the driver to pay attention to the road and keep at least one hand on the wheel. Tesla is preparing for the day of driverless vehicles, equipping all its new cars with the hardware anticipated for fully autonomous driving in almost all circumstances in the future. Each new Tesla vehicle is equipped with eight external cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and a powerful onboard computer.

Maybe bigger than the transition from horses to automobiles, the future of autonomous vehicles is as bright as it is broad. The applications and benefits are boundless and certain to change lives for the better. There’s little doubt the autonomous evolution is upon us and that lidar is leading the way.

For more information about Cepton Inc., please visit Cepton Inc.

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