You will notice when the driverless car passes by. The towering sensor on the top of the car not only stands out. But the Chinese self-driving car company Pony.ai is rebuilding the roofline for its next-generation self-driving taxi.
As part of a partnership with Luminar, a manufacturer of self-driving car sensors, the Pony.ai Robo taxi will have a flat roof with the necessary cameras, radar, and LiDAR sensors that use light to measure the distance between objects.
Distance so that the car can “see.” Typical LiDAR sensors such as Velodyne, Intel’s Mobileye, and Waymo’s own Laser Bear Honeycomb are mostly conical, which can help 360-degree viewing from the roof and around the car. The Iris system relies on multiple sensors to capture the same 360-degree vantage point.
Pony.ai already operates self-driving taxi services in five cities in China and the United States and has 200 vehicles. At a press conference last week, the company showed what its future Robo taxis will look like from 2023.
The slim sensor system uses Luminar’s new Iris LiDAR, which can “see” 500 meters ahead and project images at a “camera-like” resolution. The entire roof assembly is only about 10 cm high and is integrated into the car instead of being added as a roof rack.
Pony.ai will begin testing with Iris sensors next year. This is a new look compared to cars from companies such as Waymo. Waymo provides driverless taxi services in the Phoenix area of Arizona. Waymo and other products, such as Ford’s Argo AI car or Baidu’s Robo-taxis in China, can be seen in the distance due to the tall and bulky LiDAR system on the roof.
Luminar CEO Austin Russell canceled other companies’ designs without naming any brand, saying that the new design is in sharp contrast with “some monsters on the audiovisual test car.” Even Waymo’s new autonomous taxis are built into the Jaguar I-Pace electric vehicle, which is heavier than your normal car.
The CEO of Luminar said that the slimmer design indicates that autonomous vehicles are an experiment and a viable product.