Figure 1 : Founder and CEO of Benewake, Li Yuan.
2015 is known by many as the first year of autonomous driving. At that time, the domestic LiDAR market was almost dominated by foreign manufacturers, and products also faced issues such as high prices and long delivery times, making large-scale commercialization a distant goal.
Li Yuan, whose professional background focuses on optics, started his entrepreneurial journey at this time by founding Benewake. Li Yuan said, "LiDAR is one of the most representative products in the field of optics, and it is currently one of the hottest industries for productization."
Creating a "standardized product" for LiDAR
On the official website of Benewake, it boldly states: dedicated to creating the best eyes of robots in the world.
However, at the beginning of the venture, the domestic LiDAR industry was largely monopolized by foreign companies such as Velodyne, with applications mainly focused on military use. At that time, Chinese entrepreneurs could clearly feel that domestic technology was lagging behind and the craftsmanship did not meet the standards.To this day, domestic LiDAR start-ups have made great strides in their products, continuously achieving technological breakthroughs and even beating foreign manufacturers in multiple bids. Everything is sending a message to the industry: domestic LiDAR is not inferior, and in some aspects, it is even superior to foreign products.
In terms of products, Benewake has already developed and launched multiple products, including the long-range high-definition 3D LiDAR Horn-X2, which provides more than 300m of distance and a wide field of view detection capability of 90°*30°, with a maximum angle resolution of 0.05°*0.05°. Even small targets can be accurately detected from 300m away. In addition, Benewake has also launched the single-point ranging LiDAR TF series and the solid-state array LiDAR CE30 series.
As we all know, in the process of commercialization, when working with enterprise-level customers, companies sometimes offer "customized" services to provide product adaptability and reduce integration difficulties. However, Benewake doesn't seem to limit itself to this concept.
Regarding this, Li Yuan said, "We strive to make products that specialize in the industry, so that we can control the product and price. We must make as many standardized products as possible that meet customer needs, because the more products we have, the worse the performance and the more unstable they become. The so-called 'customized' service must be based on stable products and provide complementary services within boundaries."
Currently, Benewake's entire team structure has a research and development ratio of over 50%. As a company with an engineering culture, Benewake's entire technology team is composed of two types of talent backgrounds: research institutes and overseas returnees.
Figure 2 : 3D point cloud image of the Yuanmingyuan using the Benewake Horn-X2 LiDAR
Business Focus: Focusing on the Major Transportation Industry
This year, Benewake has achieved a breakthrough in a new industry, shifting its focus from fields such as drones, robots, and security to the major transportation industry. This is also Benewake's main business direction this year, while the expansion of other business areas is currently in a stable stage. According to Li Yuan, this decision was made based on the combined advantages of their products and direction.
Currently, Benewake's LiDAR ranging module has been applied to mass production projects for passenger cars, entering the front-loading market. Li Yuan stated that the front-loading market is very large, and this entry validates Benewake's LiDAR for vehicle-level safety, reliability, and supply chain management capabilities.
"At present, most of Benewake's clients are start-up companies, but the main areas and companies that are put into operation and serviced are mature, such as front-loading vehicles and rail transportation." In the future, with this ranging module as a starting point, Benewake will gradually expand into the high-end car market.
Li Yuan said, "We have always been focused on a core goal, which is to break the foreign technology monopoly, realize the domestication of LiDAR, and help more application scenarios achieve high-performance and reliable 3D environmental perception capabilities, so that technological achievements can benefit the public."
Currently, driven by the national new infrastructure policy, Benewake has already implemented tunnel safety monitoring, shield door anti-pinch monitoring, train forward collision warning and other traffic safety monitoring solutions, and is gradually piloting in several key cities across the country.
"At present, the company has fully invested in the performance upgrade and localization of components for the high-performance Horn series of LiDAR. Through its advanced 3D environmental perception technology, it empowers the construction of intelligent transportation infrastructure, achieving comprehensive improvement in precise perception, accurate analysis, and fine management, and assisting customers in further exploring rapid upgrades in the fields of safe intelligent driving and automation."
However, with the product entering the market and being applied, competition is inevitably emerging. Personally, in a technology-driven tech company, I believe that ensuring the company's technological advancement and sensitivity through continuous exploration, while also enabling products to continue to iterate and upgrade to meet market demands, is one of the factors that maintain core competitiveness."
Figure 3 : Benewake Long-Range High-Definition 3D LiDAR, Horn-X2
The Hundred-Dollar Price War of LiDAR
According to Mims Consulting, the biggest challenge in designing LiDAR is to achieve performance and robustness goals while achieving mass production at a reasonable price.
As we all know, LiDAR is expensive, often costing thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars per unit. When Google's self-driving car first used the 64-line LiDAR developed by Velodyne, it cost as much as $75,000 per unit. Moreover, each car used more than one LiDAR.
With the development of technology, it is evident that the price of LiDAR is gradually decreasing. At CES 2020, Velodyne released a new LiDAR product called Velabit, stating that the price would be around $100 after mass production.
Therefore, some argue that a "price war" for LiDAR has already begun. However, Li Yuan believes that focusing solely on price without considering factors such as performance, release time, and product stability is meaningless.
Taking Benewake as an example, "the product should first meet customer performance requirements, and then continuously reduce costs to serve a broader field."
It is worth noting that Benewake has already developed its own low-cost LiDAR product for mass production in the $100 price range called TF-Luna. This product has a range of 0.2m-8m for short-range distance measurements and can achieve high stability, precision, and sensitivity.
"What Benewake is doing is achieving high-quality production while also offering reasonable prices for mass production."