The light detection and ranging sensor, or lidar, acting in concert with camera and radar, is emerging as the key constituent of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that enable semi- or fully-automated cars. Unlike radars, which lack resolution, and vision cameras, which can’t see at night and in bad weather, lidars use pulsed lasers to track the environment around cars with greater precision.
But, how to make lidars affordable for high-volume car OEMs? And, make them compact and robust as well? Remember the most distinctive feature on the roof of Google’s self-driving cars? That device from Velodyne used a revolving array of lasers and optical sensors and cost nearly $75,000.
The next generation of lidars miniaturized the bulky roof-top sensors while bringing down the cost to around $8,000. But that was still too pricey for carmakers. Finally, at the CES 2016, the Silicon Valley startup Quanergy vowed to offer a lidar for less than $250, prompting similar announcements from Velodyne and Israeli upstart Innoviz.
Enter solid-state lidars.
Infineon’s recent acquisition of Innoluce, a Philips spin-off, provides some clues on the anatomy of solid-state lidars. Innoluce shrinks lidars by replacing the highly-precise mechanical scanning mirrors with MEMS micro-mirrors.
That significantly brings down the cost, improves temperature stability and lowers sensitivity to vibrations. The miniature laser scanning module from Innoluce, consisting of tiny MEMS mirrors and an ASIC that controls these mirrors, is used to direct laser beams.
Lidars are going to be crucial for self-driving cars in identifying roadblocks, traffic signs, pavement markings and other roadside conditions. So it’s a welcome relief for car OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers that solid-state lidars promise lower costs in smaller and more rugged packages.
Both Quanergy and Velodyne are expected to unveil solid-state lidars later this year.