LightTrends Newsletter

Expectations Reduced for Automotive LIDARs and 3D Sensors in Smartphones

December 2020

The self-driving car was a dream deferred even before the Covid-19 outbreak brought the global economy to a standstill. By early 2020, plans to launch robotaxi services paused or scaled-down as excitement over driverless cars gave way to recognizing the long work and heavy expense of bringing the technology to market. For most of the year, the pandemic forced companies to pull their cars from the road, send employees to work from home, and look carefully at their balance sheets. With the fallout from pandemic-related shutdowns and the looming threat of a resurgence, global vehicle sales are down 14% this year compared with pre-Covid-19 estimates and 22% lower than expected in 2021.

Some companies are taking the opportunity to demonstrate the promise of autonomous vehicles for contact-free delivery, these efforts serve mostly to show how far the industry remains from large-scale, truly driverless deployments. There is a consensus that autonomous vehicle developers are in for a bumpy ride and that consolidation is inevitable. But there is also widespread confidence that the project of building self-driving cars is more urgent than ever.

We've seen a shift in strategy from the companies in the sector.  The approach a couple of years ago was a very ideological stance of concept vehicles.  Today's industry approach appears to be more collaborative. Both the vendors and the customers are pragmatically looking for solutions to safety, security, and infrastructure requirements to support a fully autonomous future.

On a brighter side, there have been several blank-check deals that seek to cash in on the automotive-sensor boom or the tail end of it. The fourth quarter brought us IPO's of Velodyne, Luminar, and with Innoviz and Aeva next in line. Lidar makers have been attracting fresh capital as they work with automakers to introduce limited autonomous features. The market may be in the ditch now, but it will not be there for long.

COVID-19 negatively impacted sales of all smartphones in the first 6-9 months of 2020, but the demand is getting stronger now. Sales of iPhone12 are exceeding expectations and we are projecting for a modest 10% growth for VCSEL array sales in 2020. However, we reduced our expectations for adoption of 3D face recognition on Android phones. This is a very convenient, but hardly a must have feature for the majority of consumers. Google does not offer a face recognition function in their latest Pixel5 phones. Future applications of world-facing sensors, including LIDAR in iPhone12, have yet to prove themselves.

The updated reportanalyzes the new business opportunity for suppliers of optical components in the market for 3D depth sensors used in smartphones and automotive lidar. It reviews different 3D sensing technologies and the optics required, with a focus on vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) arrays. The report includes historical data on shipments of these products in 2017-2020 and forecast for 2021-2025. It offers an analysis of the leading vendors and technical challenges faced by suppliers, and discusses likely future developments in the supply chain.

More information on the report is available at:

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