LG Acquires Lighting Company ZKW, Plans to Develop Tech for Autonomous Cars

Self-driving cars need headlights too.

ZKW

Korean tech giant LG has acquired Austrian automotive lighting company ZKW in a deal worth around $1.3 billion. Why would LG pay so much for a lighting supplier? Two words: autonomous cars.

ZKW is already a prominent automotive supplier. It was one of the first companies to launch matrix LED and laser headlights, an LG press release noted. But the Austrian firm's real value to LG is in the potential applications of its lighting technology for self-driving cars.

"LG and ZKW will focus on developing intelligent lighting solutions that display high-resolution information and warnings on roads collected from sensors, including autonomous driving cameras and automotive communications," according to LG.

Self-driving cars typically use a trio of sensors that includes cameras, radar, and lidar. While radar and lidar are just as effective in the dark, cameras do require an external light source in order to "see" their surroundings. This was tragically demonstrated recently when an Uber self-driving car collided with a pedestrian in the dark.

While lidar supplier Velodyne said its sensors should have spotted the person, who later died of injuries from the collision, Amon Shashua, head of Intel's self-driving car program, said that conditions may have made it difficult for the car's computers to interpret images from its forward-looking camera. It's the latest manifestation of a debate over which self-driving car sensors are really the most important.

In 2016, Ford ran a self-driving car around its Arizona proving ground at night with no headlights. The car relied on lidar and 3-D maps of the route to orient itself. In contrast, Tesla doesn't believe autonomous cars need lidar. It plans to use only cameras and radar for its autonomous-driving systems. But it seems most likely that production self-driving cars will feature cameras, radar, and lidar, for the sake of redundancy.