Less than three years ago, Jun Pei founded the company Cepton in order to attack the market for lidar sensors with a patented technology. The PhD from Stanford University had previously been Vice President Engineering at Velodyne – the company whose lidar sensors were considered the “gold standard” in the automotive industry until recently. These however had one disadvantage, albeit a serious one: they were far too expensive to equip a production vehicle. Together with his new VP Engineering Mark McCord and the AI and algorithm expert Jun Ye, Jun Pei developed a new generation of lidar sensors. It is based on the patented MMT technology (Micro Motion Technology), which minimizes the use of mechanical components, thus reducing costs and increasing reliability. The laser sources in the sensors are moved by coils; rotating mirrors are a thing of the past.
The company does not reveal exactly how the technology works – at least it is not another version of solid-state technology, asserts Director Business Development Jürgen Ludwig, who is now establishing a subsidiary in Europe. Cepton also does not reveal the exact number of laser sources in its sensor units – only that the sensors contain “more than one laser diode, but significantly less than the 64 laser sources of other manufacturers”. With its MMT technology, Cepton is competing against the likes of Ibeo or Innoviz,. In contrast to most solid-state lidar proponents, Cepton can already deliver series products, he said.
Cepton has currently developed four different sensors; one of them is already being produced in smaller series at the company’s Home Base in San Jose (Calif), the next three are scheduled to roll off the assembly line by the middle of the year. The MMT technology is well suited for automated production because it does not require any time-consuming calibration, explains Ludwig. This should contribute to a comparatively low price.
The currently available Vista Rev2 sensor offers a scanning angle of 60 degrees horizontally and 24 degrees vertically. It scans the entire field of view 10 times per second; due to its high angular resolution of 0.25 degrees (horizontally and vertically), the device generates a particularly detailed point cloud, from which the downstream software then computes an environmental image with correspondingly high precision. For the Vista Rev3, Vista-M and Vista-X models in the development pipeline, Cepton wants to further increase the scanning angle and frequency up to 20 fpm. A theoretically conceivable further increase in the frame rate would, however, require a Gigabit Ethernet connection, whereas today the sensors get by with “normal” Ethernet. With a power consumption of 10 or 15 watts, the sensors are in the range of what OEMs demand. The small form factor allows integration in headlights or rear lights.
From its new branch in Munich, Cepton primarily wants to serve the European vehicle manufacturers and tier ones. However, the company does not only sell its sensors to the automotive industry, says Ludwig: “Installed in professional drones, the Lidar sensors can also be used for precision measurements in agriculture and mining, as well as for object detection in the context of systems for object security.