Lunar landing conspiracy put to rest(?) with LIDAR

On July 20th, 1969 man first set foot on the moon with the Apollo 11 mission, or so they say. If it was faked, or so the theory goes, one would think that there were a few details that don’t quite add up. One such theory is that the hatch on the lunar module isn’t actually large enough to allow a fully-suited up astronaut to enter and exit the module.

Rather than make assumptions, astrophotographer and hacker “AstronomyLive” took matters into his own hands and used a homemade LIDAR unit to measure the hatch of Lunar Module #9 at the Kennedy Space Center, as well as an Apollo spacesuit.

The Arduino-powered device aims the laser, and transmits this information to a tablet that also provides a convenient user interface. This data was then arranged as a point cloud, proving that… You can take a guess, or watch the video below to see his conclusion!

I used the Garmin LIDAR-Lite V3 along with a couple of metal geared servo motors to build a simple pan/tilt scanner, which pairs via Bluetooth to an Android app I built using MIT App Inventor 2 to control and receive data from the Arduino. It’s simple but effective. Although every tutorial I read suggested I couldn’t safely pull the voltage off the board for the motors, but I found that the vin pin gave me no problems, as long as I used a 5V 1.5A linear voltage regulator between the pin and the motors. I supplied 9V using AA batteries to the power jack on the Arduino. In the future I may upgrade the scanner by adding a small camera to grab RGB data for each point as it samples, and ideally I would change the whole thing to use a stepper motor for continuous spinning and scanning to generate a denser cloud.

Arduino Blog

Elon Musk makes case for eschewing LIDAR as Tesla reports latest results

Elon Musk has said that LIDAR is a ‘crutch’ and affirmed that Tesla will not be planning to use the system going forward.

LIDAR, which stands for ‘light detection and ranging’, helps measure distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light, and measuring the reflected pulses. While other companies are using the technology – it is a part of the alleged claims in the current Uber versus Waymo court case, for instance – Tesla will continue to only use cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors to create autonomous vehicles.

Musk was responding to an analyst question on an earnings call, asking whether competitors are missing anything in their software stack that enabled Tesla to not use LIDAR, and whether regulation would come into place regarding use of the technology.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that the road system is geared towards passive optical [image recognition],” said Musk, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha. “We have to solve passive optical image recognition extremely well in order to be able to drive in any given environment and the changing environment.

“At the point at which you have solved it extremely well, what is the point in having optical – meaning LIDAR – which cannot read signs,” he added. “In my view, it is a crutch that will drive companies to a local maximum that they will find very difficult to get out of.”

Regarding what the competition are doing, Musk added: “I find it quite puzzling that companies would choose to do an active proton system in the wrong wavelength. They’re going to have a whole bunch of expensive equipment, most of which makes the car expensive, ugly and unnecessary… and I think they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

The company issued its fourth quarter and full year update for 2017, with revenue of $ 11.8 billion (£8.5bn) for 2017, up 55% year over year from organic growth. Tesla added that it expected 2018 revenue growth to ‘significantly exceed’ 2017 growth.

The focus for a lot of the message was on the long-awaited Model 3 – in more ways than one. Tesla delivered 1,542 Model 3 vehicles in the final quarter of 2017, with a Business Insider article saying that ‘production is on track, but it’s still a complete mess.’

“The launch of Model 3 [the most recent model] is what Tesla had been building towards from day one,” the company said. “We incorporated all the learnings from the development and production of Roadster, Model S, and Model X to create the world’s first mass market electric vehicle that is priced on par with its gasoline-powered equivalents – even without incentives.

“Now we are ramping up production significantly, and as we look ahead in 2018, we are on the cusp of a step change in the world’s transition to sustainability.”

Not everyone believes in the work Tesla is doing, however. A recent study from Navigant Research assessed the better part of 20 companies developing automated driving systems and put Tesla at the bottom of the pile.

You can read the full Tesla financial report here.

Postscript: While the vast majority of the focus was on Tesla, analysts could not resist comment on Musk’s successful SpaceX launch earlier this week. One told Musk the launch was ‘probably the sickest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.’ Latest from the homepage

Scan this leaders’ list from the growing world of LiDAR startups


LiDAR — yes, it sounds like a tool that any professional journalist covering politicians should carry with them. Unfortunately for political reporters everywhere, LiDAR doesn’t detect fibs. Instead, it stands for Light Detection and Ranging, and it’s a critical technology for self-driving cars.

That makes it a particularly appealing product category for startups looking to make their mark in the emerging market of autonomous technologies.

A new crop of startups, complete with plenty of venture capital and each boasting to have an excellent solution for any autonomous vehicle manufacturer looking to add LiDAR to their offerings.

Among these businesses is Quanergy, a startup founded in 2012 that has spent much of this time developing what it hopes will be a value-based solution. While some LiDAR systems run thousands of dollars, Quanergy plans to eventually make its mass-market solution available for around $ 100.

One of the ways Quanergy is able to bring its system price down so far is its use of a solid state design. With no moving parts, these systems can be manufactured more easily. This means a smaller field of view for each sensor, however.

Some unique tech out there

Another company working on solid state LiDAR is Velodyne. This company, which also produces 360-degree LiDAR systems, is working on a solid-state option to complement them. With a 35-degree vertical and 120-degree horizontal field of view, these smaller, less pricey systems still offer plenty of range to work with.

Oryx Vision out of Israel has a unique take on LiDAR. Using special lasers that have a longer-wave infrared laser that enables the system to “see” through fog. It can also work in the face of direct sunlight. This answers some of the more common issues current LiDAR technology faces.

Luminar Technologies is also worth mention because not only does it produce LiDAR systems, but it does so entirely from scratch. Some companies get by combining multiple third-party components into their hardware, but not Luminar. This startup builds everything in-house.

These companies are each approaching the same problem in a different way. This is a very good thing for the autonomous vehicle industry as it applies pressure in the direction of innovation. Whether the system is solid state or 360-degree, 3D modeling or low power, the real victor in this competitive market is the consumer.

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