Aurora said it expects to complete a prototype of the lidar-on-chips by the end of the year. They are expected to be part of a next-generation sensor suite installed in the company’s trucks starting in 2027, the same year Aurora intends to begin mass production of its self-driving systems in a partnership with global supplier Continental.

By integrating the optical components onto a chip, Aurora expects to improve the reliability and performance of the sensors while reducing their cost. That is especially important because Aurora’s lidar has always been more expensive than the rest of the industry, although it is also different from it.

This development should bring the cost per unit on par with competitors.

“It will be a few thousand dollars or even less,” Barna said. “The nice thing about semiconductors is that once you’ve made the first one, it’s cheap to stamp those out and make lots of them.”

Aurora sees its lidar sensors as a unique advantage. They utilize a continuous beam of light on a target. Most lidar companies send pulses of light and measure the time it takes the light to reflect off an object and return to the lidar unit.

Aurora’s approach is akin to using a flashlight, and the other acts like more of a floodlight. The Aurora sensors allow for more precision at greater distances while using less power.

Aurora’s technology, called Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave, carries two other advantages. Interference from sunlight is not a concern compared to conventional amplitude-modulated lidar, Barna said, and it can measure the velocity of objects — providing self-driving trucks with another layer of vital information on the path ahead.

Its major drawback, historically, has been that it is difficult to manufacture in large quantities.