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Lidar 101: The Basics of Lidar Technology

image of lidar sensor Lidar 101
Lidar 101

Lidar technology has been in the news for many years in the context of autonomous driving (AD). More recently, lidar is making waves in many new markets such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), smart infrastructure and even consumer handheld smart devices. In this Forbes article Jun Pei, CEO of Cepton provides his insights on Lidar 101: The Basics of Lidar Technology.

However, the headlines and buzzwords surrounding lidar can sometimes be confusing even to people in the industry, let alone those with only a casual interest in this space. This has created a couple of challenges:

1. Difficulty in understanding the key differences between various lidar technologies.

2. An inability to clearly assess the mass-market commercial viability of those technologies — especially for the automotive ADAS market, which is widely acknowledged to be the largest expected market for lidar.

One way to address these challenges is to partition the key functions of lidar and compare how different technologies achieve those functions and with what tradeoffs.

What is Lidar?

Lidar — which originated as an acronym for “light detection and ranging” — is an elegant method used to accurately measure distances and dimensions of objects using light. All lidars include a light source that is usually invisible to the human eye.

One of the key functions of the lidar is to transmit the light into the environment (transmission). When the light falls on objects, part of the light is reflected back toward the source. The second key function of the lidar is to detect the light that is reflected back (detection).

Light has a well-known speed of transmission, and by measuring the time between when the light is transmitted from the source and when it is detected by the receiver (time of flight, or TOF), we can accurately measure the three-dimensional distance (range) of the object from the lidar. At the same time, the lidar can capture data not just from a single point source and detector but cover a 2D field of view (FOV) either by scanning or other methods. This third function of lidar is referred to as “imaging,” with different techniques offering varying image resolution.

Choices of lidar technologies can be evaluated based on how these three functions are achieved and how they balance the three key pillars for mass-market deployment — namely, performance, reliability and cost.

For the complete article on Lidar 101 CLICK HERE.

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