Why SWaP-C3 is Critical in Lidar System Evaluation

SWaP - (Size, Weight, and Power)

In my previous article, we discussed the importance of having a common Lidar metric, Points Per Second (PPS), for automotive OEMs and other relevant parties in the autonomous vehicle industry.  PPS is critical to capture the output/performance of Lidar systems across the (1) field of view, (2) frame rate and (3) resolution simultaneously, so the tradeoffs become clear to overall system performance when a system is designed to optimize any one single variable.

Although total system performance is critical, there are key characteristics of a Lidar system that need to be considered in parallel with performance when looking at an automotive production technology: SWaP-C3.


SWaP (Size, Weight and Power) are general requirements that need to be met before deployment on a production basis in the industry, and each use case (whether requiring long-range, mid-range or short-range sensors) has unique requirements. C3 (Cost, Cooling and Compliance) are the other key requirements that are equally relevant for automotive customers.  Let’s look at each of these in more detail:

    • Size: The smaller, the better with an industrialized module that is 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm perhaps becoming the general envelope of acceptability, based on the specifications of current production systems. Since short-range Lidar systems are usually deployed as several units per vehicle (rather than as a single sensor) to create 360 degree “cocooning” coverage, they typically need to be smaller than long range units.  And smaller sizes are desirable from an industry standpoint, particularly when considering different form factors and the importance of blending in seamlessly with the overall vehicle exterior design aesthetic.

    • Weight: The lighter, the better.  Ideally, the sensors should have weight envelopes (in grams) in the low three figures.

    • Power:  The lower, the better. There are two aspects to power. Power consumption represents power draw from the vehicle, and has a direct impact on range.

    • Cost: The lower, the better.  Overall high system cost is probably the biggest impediment to widespread adoption of Lidar sensors to date for mass vehicle production.

    • Cooling: The more effective in handling/dissipating heat, the better.

    • Compliance:  The system must meet or surpass all industry requirements, some of which are changing rapidly as this technology develops and becomes more widely adopted.

Note:  Characteristics such as durability and reliability are also critical factors for mass automotive production programs, but since they are a cost of entry to work with automotive OEMs, they will not be singled out for this discussion in this paper and should be considered as part of compliance.

Product/Market Fit

Product/market fit for any given product is achieved when the combination of SWAP-C3 and performance are addressed. While requirements vary from customer to customer, at a high level, all Lidars systems need to deliver safe functionality against the critical requirements of certain specific use cases: traffic jam pilot, overhang avoidance, cut-ins, automated lane changes, highway autopilot, and self-parking, to name a few.

Automotive lidar use case examples

Although range itself is not a component of PPS, it remains a critical evaluation metric for Lidar, so it is best utilized as the normalizing constant when comparing similar systems (e.g. evaluating the PPS of three systems that operate at 100m). 

Additionally, it is important to recognize that automotive programs are complex entities with multiple stakeholders involved in the equation, and not all requirements are equally important to each stakeholder. The following table attempts to summarize which requirement is important at which level. Working with this informed view helps any industry customer (or investor) of a Lidar system operate with the knowledge of what is important vs. what is a distraction:

SWaP-C3 Priorities by Stakeholder


As Lidar systems become a part of more production programs, OEMs will continue to push for their optimization of the SWAP-C3 variables without compromising output (as measured by PPS).  The Lidar companies that will succeed moving forward are those which can deliver key SWaP-C3 metrics —  while maintaining or improving system performance — in a solution with the durability, flexibility and scalability needed for OEM mass production.

Sense Team - Aravind Ratnam - Square

Aravind Ratnam

Head of Product
Aravind leads Sense’s product management team with a background steeped in automotive, software, lasers, optics, and product management. Previously, he served as product management head for connected car solutions at Wind River, an embedded systems company that was part of Intel’s IoT group, where he successfully led corporate strategy and execution of the Wind River automotive portfolio.


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