Autonomous technology developer AutoX, which is rolling out a robotaxi service in China using a fleet of level-4 self-driving vehicles, has selected an advanced vision sensor developed by California-based Silicon photonics developer SiLC Technologies. The Autox robotaxis will use the company's lidar-based Eyeonic sensor for its robotaxi fleet in China.
AutoX's mission is to "democratize autonomy", making autonomous mobility accessible to all. The company's SAE level-4 self-driving platform is capable of safely navigating in the most challenging urban environments around the world.
But this high level of autonomy requires a state-of-the art perception system. Lidar sensors
act as the "eyes" of a self-driving vehicle, detecting objects ahead, as well as tracking their movements.
SILC Technologies was founded in 2018 by silicon photonics industry veterans with decades of commercial product development and manufacturing experience. The company is based in Monrovia, California.
SiLC's Eyeonic Vision Sensors, which were first announced in Dec 2021, improve the perception of traditional lidar, providing much more depth perception, instantaneous velocity of objects, which makes it an ideal solution for the AutoX autonomous fleet, which has now grown to over 1,000 vehicles.
SiLC says the Eyeonic Vision Sensor represents decades of silicon photonics innovation. It offers a low-cost and scalable solution for companies like AutoX that are building the next generation of level-4 autonomous vehicles, but also can be used for robotic applications and vision-based security systems.
"At AutoX we are laser focused on, and fully committed to, our mission of democratizing autonomy — to accelerate the advent of fully driverless cars," says Jianxiong Xiao (Professor X), founder and CEO of AutoX. "We're excited to work with the world's leading 4D LiDAR chip supplier. Together, we are building safer transportation and bettering lives for the world."
The Eyeonic lidar is the first-of-its-kind FMCW LiDAR transceiver using a silicon photonic chip in which all of the photonic LiDAR functions are integrated and installed in single compact housing. It's the first commercially available chip-integrated Frequency-Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) lidar sensor, according to SiLC.
The Eyeionic lidar sensor uses an ultra-low linewidth laser, a semiconductor optical amplifier, Germanium detectors, and optical circuits, which are all integrated onto the silicon photonics chip. SiLC says the design offers millimeter-level precision at longer distances, according to SiLC.
Traditional lidar sensors work by emitting pulses of laser light, which reflect back off solid objects. The light that's reflected back is used to create a 3D representation of a vehicle's surroundings, including other vehicles and pedestrians.
These types of lidar sensors rely on a pulsed technology called ToF (time of flight), measuring the time it takes for the light to reflect back to the sensor to determine how far objects are away and whether the objects are moving or stationary.
But SiLC's lidar uses FMCW sensing that takes advantage of the properties of photons themselves. The Eyeionic lidar can provide distance, motion, velocity, and information about the surface and materials of any point in the 3D space. It's more similar to how a human eye detects and tracks objects.
"In addition to being the only fully chip-integrated solution on the market, SiLC also has demonstrated the longest-range FMCW LiDAR operation," said Dr. Mehdi Asghari, SiLC's CEO and founder. "This and the combination of precision velocity enables a vastly simplified and lower latency perception stack. We're pleased to partner with AutoX, a company dedicated to improving the safety and performance of autonomous vehicles."
AutoX is planning to equip a number of cars with SiLC's Eyeonic Vision sensor this year.
AutoX began picking up passengers in its robotaxis in Aug 2020
after signing a partnership with the City of Shanghai to jointly launch the first commercial robotaxi fleet in China. For this initial rollout, customers could book a ride via AutoNavi, a popular mapping and transportation-booking app in China.
It was one of the first commercial launches of its kind and the first time an autonomous ride-hailing service was available on a major ride-hailing platform in China, according to the company.
The AutoX robotaxi service is simply called "Robotaxi."
Last December, AutoX unveiled its robotaxi assembly line in China
, where it plans to produce thousands of self-driving vehicles for commercial mobility services.
The robotaxis are being built using Pacifica minivans supplied by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). The same vehicle being used by Waymo in the U.S. for its planned robotaxis service called Waymo One. The factory is designed to outfit the fifth generation of the AutoX autonomous driving system to the production vehicles.
At the plant, each AutoX Gen5 vehicle gets outfitted with state-of-the-art sensors, including cameras and lidar as well as autonomous driving electronic and electrical architecture. The core computing platform delivers 2,200 TOPS of computing power, according to AutoX.
AutoX's full-stack SAE Level 4 autonomous driving system is called the "AI Driver", which integrates all of the software and hardware components. It's designed to operate without human intervention.
AutoX and FCA also co-developed an redundant wire drive-by-wire system for the vehicles, along with a full-stack architectural redundancy, to prevent any single point failures of the system and increase passenger safety.
The AutoX full-stack AI Driver is also designed to be compatible with vehicles from different manufacturers, which will make its easier for AutoX to scale its fleet of robotaxis using the Eyeonic lidar sensor supplied by SiLC Technologies.