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Velodyne lidar helps Idriverplus autonomous vehicles clean up the streets

Imagine how clean the streets could be with a small army of these things.

Autonomous street sweepers running 24 hours a day would make for a pretty spotless city. 

When most people think of autonomous vehicles, their minds probably skip right to passenger vehicles or the mass-transit pods designed to replace some of those individual cars. Not very often do we think about service vehicles and all those niche corners, but at least one company in China is thinking about them, and its products pack some potent equipment.

Velodyne announced this week that it's working with a Chinese startup called Idriverplus to outfits its autonomous vehicles with lidar. Lidar works similarly to radar, but it uses light instead of radio waves, and the reflections of those light beams are sent back to the emitter and turned into a "map" of the world around the vehicle for better navigation.

Idriverplus is working on a number of different commercial autonomous vehicles, including the street cleaners seen above and passenger cars. Already, over 100 of the street sweepers are in use across China, covering schools, parks, regular ol' city streets and even an amusement park. Beyond China, Idriverplus has partnerships in Dubai, Malaysia and Singapore.

The company is also working on two different commercial autonomous-car projects. The first is a Level 4 autonomous vehicle (an AV that's limited by, say, a geofence) that can work on limited public roads and closed parks. The other is a little more down-to-earth: It's an advanced driver assistance suite that includes automatic parking and highway following, which is available on a number of cars around the world already. According to Idriverplus, its AVs have logged over 250,000 miles thus far, which it claims is ahead of other Chinese vehicle manufacturers.

Lidar is generally seen as a necessary inclusion for any company working to develop Level 4 or Level 5 autonomous driving technology. There are, however, a few notable exclusions, or really just one: Tesla has reiterated that its vehicles will one day be capable of autonomy with no lidar. Meanwhile, other companies like Aurora are investing in or buying lidar manufacturers for their own AV development. Heck, the new versions of the Audi A6, A7 and A8 aren't trying for autonomy, but they have lidar included as standard equipment.

Idriverplus' hardware doesn't look much different than any other company's, with most of the actual pieces contained in an array atop the vehicle.

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