MADISON, Wisc. — Among the host of sensors nowadays loaded into autonomous vehicles, lidar (light detection and ranging) projects as both critical and lucrative.As the automotive industry girds for a wave of autonomous car rollouts, Pierre Cambou, activity leader for imaging and sensors at market-research firm Yole Développement (Lyon, France), said he can’t imagine a robotic vehicle without lidars. “You need a lidar,” he noted.
Yole forecasts that revenue generated by lidars will reach $1.6 billion in 2022 and will balloon to $31.5 billion by 2032.
However, the technologies that drive lidars are still in flux, with new developments still in he pipeline. As Akhilesh Kona, senior analyst for automotive electronics and semiconductors at IHS Markit, previously told EE Times, lidar technology suppliers continue to improve durability, size, and cost by developing a variety of beam-steering technologies that range from mechanical to MEMS and solid-state.
As the race for better lidar heats up, the inevitable question is: Who’s the lidar leader? One way to find out is to look at lidar-related patents filed.
Knowmade, one of Yole's group companies that specializes in IP analysis and patent assessment, recently examined lidar devices and systems for automotive. Knowmade identified more than 6,480 lidar-related patent families for automotive.
Although this patent activity began as early as the late 1960s, the number of patent publications has exploded in the last several years. In particular, between 2007 and 2017, lidar patents had an annual compound growth rate of 21 percent.
In the early days, companies such as Bosch, Denso and Valeo dominated patent filings related to automotive lidars. Paul Leclaire, technology and patent analyst at Knowmade, describes these as “historical IP players.” Their patents are mostly related to “ADAS applications, based on incremental technologies, and with limited amount of white spaces,” he observed. By “an area with a limited amount of ‘white spaces’ means that it is difficult to file a patent with claims that do not overlap other patent claims,” he explained. “Thus, new patent applications have less chance to be granted.”
However, those historical IP players’ activities alone cannot explain the recent escalation in lidar IPs, Leclaire said.
The newcomers in lidar break down in several categories.
Next page: Semimconductor companies' lidar IPs
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