LiDAR mining major Ouster looks to future with Velodyne fusion proposal and evolving technology

On November 7th, two mining LiDAR heavyweights – Ouster and Velodyne – announced a proposed “merger of peers”. Ouster is a leading supplier of high-resolution digital LiDAR, counting among its customers top mining equipment manufacturers such as Sandvik and Liebherr, as well as Chinese leaders AHS WAYTOUS and TAGE Idriver. Velodyne is a leading global player in LiDAR sensors and solutions and a long-term supplier of LiDAR sensors to Caterpillar for its autonomous trucks.

Angus Pacala, Ouster CEO

“Ouster’s cutting-edge digital LiDAR technology, highlighted by the strong unit economics and performance gains of our new products, complemented by Velodyne’s decades of innovation, high-performance hardware and software solutions, and global customer footprint, positions the company combined to accelerate the adoption of lidar technology in fast-growing markets with a diverse set of customer needs,” said Ouster CEO Angus Pacala. “Together, we will aim to deliver the performance customers demand while achieving price points low enough to drive mass adoption.”

To get more information about LiDAR technology and its position in the mining industry – ARE recently interviewed Angus Pacala, who will serve as CEO of the new merged company, and Velodyne CEO Dr. Ted Tewksbury will become executive chairman of the board. The merger partners aim to realize annual savings of at least $75 million within nine months of the closing of the proposed merger. The merger transactions are expected to be completed in the first half of 2023.

In the past, the big OEMs were buying industrial LiDAR off the shelf, not necessarily designed for mining – are the Ouster sensors more ready for mining?

AP: Reliability and robustness have always been central to the design of our sensors. We build our sensors to withstand some of the harshest operating conditions. All our OS sensors are IP68/69K rated for ingress protection and can operate in temperatures down to -40°C. We recently released the latest version of our operating system series, REV7, which has been designed for even greater reliability. Updates include an increase in maximum operating temperature, a reduction in power consumption, and doubling their resistance to shock and vibration, while retaining the same small, light, and energy-efficient design of previous generations. With approximately 95% automotive-grade components, Ouster REV7 sensors are built specifically for production-scale fleets. Given our long-standing focus on strengthening our sensors, many customers use them as-is. We have several deployments where our sensors are factory installed on mining vehicles, but we also have some customers who want to further harden the sensors or at least mount them alongside things like shock absorbers.

Remove LiDARs on the Sandvik AutoMine Concept Loader

How would you say the LiDAR market in mining has evolved over the past few years as the uptake of autonomy in mining has increased?

AP: LiDAR is becoming a key component of state-of-the-art mining equipment as well as a key piece of site infrastructure for security, safety and even volumetric measurement. LiDAR is not just a sensor for research and development programs. It is deployed on production mining fleets to reduce vehicle collisions and increase efficiency, as well as enable fully autonomous operations. We also work with solution providers that use our LiDAR on vehicles or fixed infrastructure to monitor gaps in open pit mines or other hazardous areas and to track and alert objects moving through them or to analyze the volume of material that is uploaded or processed at a site. Major OEMs and mining operators have realized that they can get a massive ROI by implementing this technology, so we are starting to see the pace of adoption pick up in the industry.

Do you have any strategic collaboration or supply agreements with major mining equipment suppliers?

AP: Yes, we have several multi-year strategic agreements with customers to supply large industrial and mining equipment manufacturers as they ramp up production or adopt retrofit solutions. We also work with a number of companies that use our sensors for research and development purposes. Many of these R&D programs are expected to mature into large-scale production deployments, but this may take some time. We’re right at the top of the LiDAR adoption curve, so the opportunity for mid- to long-term expansion is very exciting.

Is there also a market for LIDAR to be retrofitted to existing cars myself and is this something that is already happening?

AP: Yes, absolutely. Ouster works both directly with autonomous solution providers and with some direct mines to upgrade equipment already on mine sites.

There is a lot of talk about solid-state LiDAR in mining – what is Ouster’s take on this and how are your LiDAR sensors evolving as the technology evolves?

AP: We believe the end state for LiDAR will be solid-state digital LiDAR technology, but the technology is still maturing. Many LiDAR companies are still developing mechanical sensors. Ouster is currently developing its solid-state Digital Flash (DF) LiDAR series for automotive series production, which we believe will drive high volumes and ultimately make sensors more affordable across all industries. Ultimately, we plan to offer our DF Series LiDAR to any customer that wants it, including mining customers. That said, today there is still a growing demand for rotation sensors that can provide up to a 360-degree field of view.

Eliminate LiDAR on a mining truck equipped with WAYTOUS autonomous technology in China

Ouster LIDARs are used on Sandvik’s latest underground machinery, including new concept drills and loaders – can you provide an insight into what makes the Ouster LIDAR applicable and performing in underground mining environments?

AP: Ouster offers the highest resolution sensors on the market in addition to a small form factor, low power consumption, industry-leading reliability and affordability. All of our mining customers have put our sensors through rigorous testing and validation, which is a testament to the quality of our products. Our REV7 sensors are even more robust and offer double the range, along with a 50% increase in precision and accuracy. The richness of our point clouds, even in dusty underground mining environments, make it ideal for automated mining solutions.

Do you think high resolution cameras and radar compete with LiDAR or just complement it? Do you see most mines and autonomous equipment providers choosing to use a multi-sensor approach?

AP: Right now, we see the different detection technologies as complementary. There are benefits to each, and the critical aspect of any autonomous vehicle is sensor redundancy. There should never be a single point of failure. Multiple sensors on a vehicle will provide the most reliable information to the system. If a drop of water or dust blinds a camera, for example, the system can rely on LiDAR data. This is why most autonomous equipment vendors use a multi-sensor approach.

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