As we move towards a world driven by automation, we need new technologies to enable these machines to work in an efficient manner, giving accurate results. LiDAR is one such example.
In simple terms, Light Detection and Ranging or LiDAR is a technology that helps you detect the distance of an object from your position using laser light energy. It measures the time that the emitted light takes to return to the sensor. It works a little bit like radar but instead of sending out radio waves it emits pulses of infrared light or lasers. The light pulse hits the ground and then returns to the device. It gathers all the information and creates a real-time map that enables the device to identify objects.
Such advanced lighting technique is mainly meant for driverless vehicles, autonomous robots, agriculture, archaeology, biology and conservation, geology and soil science, military, surveying, etc. LiDAR is also called 3D laser scanning that combines 3D and laser scanning, and has applications in terrestrial, aerial, and mobile applications. For example, the car’s computer can study the map and understand how it should drive the car and when to slow down or stop.
It is emerging as one of the most talked about technologies in current times and its popularity is clearly evident from the way it was highlighted and discussed at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Several companies launched their LiDAR-based solutions at the Show and demonstrated ways to improve the intelligence and safety of autonomous vehicles.
RoboSense put forth an upgraded version of its MEMS solid-state LiDAR which has the ability to support Level 5 autonomous driving. Velodyne LiDAR launched the world’s first ‘wide field of view’ short range sensor, besides some other advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Its VelaDome LiDAR system provides an ultra-wide image for near-object avoidance.
Ouster is another major player in the field of LiDAR and it won a CES 2019 Innovation Award for introducing OS-1-128 sensor, which contains 128 individual laser beams and has a 45° vertical field of view. LeddarTech announced the availability of production samples of the LeddarCore LCA2 system-on-chip (SoC), which allows tier-1 suppliers to design and mass produce automotive-grade solid-state LiDAR at costs ranging from sub-$100 for entry-level solutions to sub-$300 for advanced solutions, making it possible to deploy LiDAR in production vehicles at a low cost.
The data generated by LiDAR can be used directly or in combination with data collected by other devices in the system. For example, in aerial applications, LiDAR systems use GPS; and in self-driving cars, it uses GPS, onboard sensors like accelerometers or speedometers, gyrocompasses, and navigational data from stored maps like Google Street View. This way, a ‘point cloud’ is created, which is a 3D-map-based on GPS coordinates thereby giving millions of data points extending as far as 60m away in all directions, which are highly accurate.
LiDAR can be used in multiple devices, machines and areas of operation. Its applications go beyond our imagination and it is yet to be seen how it will unravel itself in the times to come. It has been revealed that BMW plans to deploy InnovizOne, an automotive-grade solid-state LiDAR device, for its autonomous vehicles programme, set to launch in 2021. It will be one of those moments when people will get to see the potential of this technology first hand, and this is just the beginning of an exciting era!