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Photonics Advances Driving AV Lidar

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Lidar is a crucial piece of the autonomous car puzzle. Unfortunately, today’s technological limitations prevent it from being as fast, compact, affordable or reliable as it should be for real-world self-driving applications. Recent advancements in photonics may change that.

From an article in Novus Light by Emily Newton.

Self-driving cars rely on various sensors to navigate, but lidar is among the most important. It’s also one of the most complex and expensive, so few available cars today feature it. That could change as the technology becomes more reliable, accessible and versatile, letting autonomous vehicles finally have their moment. Here are six recent technological trends that could pave the way for that future.

Photonic integrated circuits

Photonic integrated circuits (PICs) are one of the most revolutionary technologies in photonics today. PICs are integrated computer chips like those powering everyday electronics, but instead of processing signals through electrons, they use light. While this technology isn’t exclusive to lidar, it has substantial implications for self-driving cars.

PICs process information at the speed of light, making them significantly faster than electronic circuits. They also increase bandwidth and are more efficient since photons flow within the circuit without losing energy. That makes them the ideal technology to support computationally intensive machine learning functions in a small space.

Fast, accurate AI decision-making is key to building safe self-driving cars. PICs provide the speed, bandwidth and efficiency necessary to run these complex algorithms in a form factor that fits most vehicles. Machines that can process more information in less time are far safer.


Similar advances in circuit technology are leading researchers toward building complete lidar-on-a-chip systems. These devices would do for autonomous vehicles what systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) did for consumer electronics.

Conventional lidar systems typically involve multiple components, making them bulky and expensive. As a result, integrating them into a car while keeping the end price accessible to the average driver poses a challenge. Lidar-on-a-chip solves that by using solid-state alternatives to traditional systems and putting everything on a single, small device.

In addition to being smaller, the solid-state technologies in lidar-on-a-chip are significantly faster than mechanical alternatives. Once they reach a full production scale, they can also cost just $10 per unit to manufacture. Self-driving cars will become more viable for a wider range of consumers as these options become commercially available.

For the complete article on photonics advancements CLICK HERE.

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