Today, more than half of new cars are equipped with one or more radar sensors. These sensors are solid state, cost manufacturers less than US $100 each, and are small enough to be inconspicuously placed around the vehicle. They are used for a variety of things, including automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, as well as lane keeping and other advanced driver-assistance functions. This article will present the argument for using a photonic integrated circuit to develop an automotive lidar.
From an article in Mitechnews.
But this wasn’t always the case. Early automotive radars were large, mechanically steered, emitted short pulses of radio waves, and had limited performance. But the move to electronic scanning and continuous-wave emissions in automotive radars brought performance advancements and cost reductions, which in turn ushered in their widespread use.
Lidar is now undergoing this same evolution. The technology began making headlines around 2016 as a slew of companies, spurred on by the success of lidar sensors on vehicles entered in the DARPA Grand Challenge a decade earlier, began developing custom systems for autonomous vehicles. These systems tended to be pieced together from off-the-shelf components.
These first-generation lidars went only so far. Spinning or scanning mirrors contributed to their high costs and made their integration into vehicles difficult. They also suffered from reliability issues, and their pulsed operation led to problems in the presence of direct sunlight and resulted in an inherent susceptibility to interference from neighboring lidars. As a result, the available lidar sensors have not met the stringent performance, reliability, and cost goals of the automotive industry.
Carmakers are looking for high-performance, long-range lidar sensors that will cost them less than $500 each. While lidar manufacturers have made progress, the industry isn’t there just yet.
Our company chose to attack these problems head-on by designing lidar sensors that are built entirely on a chip—a photonic integrated circuit made of ordinary silicon. It has no moving parts and generates, emits, and receives light with no external hardware. And its tiny size makes it easy to incorporate into the bodies of even the sleekest cars on the road.
Lidar is a lot like radar, but it operates in the infrared portion of the spectrum, with wavelengths typically between 905 and 1,550 nanometers (compared with a few millimeters for automotive radar). This difference in wavelength gives lidar much better spatial resolution, because the waves sent out from the sensor can be more tightly focused.
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