One benefit of the autonomous vehicle hype cycle is a serious broadening of the lidar market. These days you can basically take your pick when it comes to hardware specs: Want it to be small and high-performance? You can get it for a price. Want your lidar to be inexpensive? You can get that, too, though often at the expense of size or absolute performance measures. You still can’t have it all—but the chances are increasing that you can get exactly the balance of specifications you want.
This is the market that Livox is entering into with its line of lidar devices designed for autonomous navigation, robotics, and UAV or automotive-based mapping rigs. A few days ago they announced a whole line of lidar sensors, including the Tele-15, tuned for long-range performance, and the Horizon, tuned for a wider than average FoV.
However, it’s the Mid-40 and Mid-100 units that are getting the most attention, since they cost $599 and $1499 respectively. In an unusual move for this kind of lidar vendor, both are on sale now from the DJI store. If that’s enough information for you, order at will.
The Mid-40 and Mid-100 are similar in many ways, since the Mid-100 is a system that integrates three Mid-40 sensors. Both offer a detection range of 90 meters at 10% reflectivity, 130 meters at 20% reflectivity, and 260 meters at 80% reflectivity. They promise a range precision of 2 cm and angular accuracy of less than 0.1°.
Mid-40 is the more consumer friendly option. It is small and light enough to mount on a small UAV, measuring in at 88 x 69 x 76 mm* and 710 g. It also has a smaller FoV, at 38.4° in a circular pattern, and a scan rate of 100k points per second. Its typical power consumption is 10 W.
Mid-100 ups the size and price to hit higher performance metrics. It hits dimensions of 142 x 70 x 230 mm and weighs 2200 g. Its FoV is 98.4° horizontal and 38.4 vertical. It scans at 300,000 points per second and has a typical power consumption of 30 W.
There are, of course, compromises. One Mid-100 weighs a fair bit more than a number of industry-standard devices. And one canny Reddit commenter has noticed that each Mid-40 uses more power at peak drain than we’re used to: where the Mid-40 draws 40 W at peak for 100k points, we have seen existing systems draw 31 W at peak for 700k points, or even 18 W at peak for 1.3 million points per second.
Depending on your application and needs, these factors (and others, like scan rate) could make a difference.
More technical information from Livox
To its credit, Livox appears to be coming out of the gate with a level of technical transparency matched by only a few other companies in the space. For instance, its website links to a user manual for the Mid- lidar devices that includes a large amount of technical detail. It offers a whitepaper that describes the logic behind the non-repeating scan pattern used by the devices. (TL;DR: the argument is that it “reduces the probability of miss-detection that results from scanning pattern distribution.”) The company also supplies downloadable point cloud data for the Mid-100, available alongside the user manuals and other literature here.
In other words, Livox appears to offer enough information for you to decide if the system is right for your application, and if the relative trade-offs are worth it.
One thing the company isn’t sharing is how they manufacture the sensors at a low cost—the literature refers only to the “DL-Pack Technology,” which reportedly enables the company to align the lidar parts without requiring manual work from skilled personnel.
For more information about the sensors, contact Livox directly through its website, or just buy one from DJI’s website and give it a go. Here’s a reddit review of the Mid-40 that might offer a better sense for how the sensor works in the field.
* Correction: The article previously listed the Livox sensor’s size in cm rather than mm. Big difference.