LIDAR (LIght Detecting And Ranging) sensors play a critical role in almost all autonomous and semiautonomous vehicles. Using lasers and relatively simple time of flight calculations, LIDAR can very accurately measure distances and generate detailed 3D maps of environments, but traditionally the best performing systems have been large and very expensive. German lighting manufacturer Osram Opto Semiconductors unveiled their new 4 channel LIDAR package last week, and its price and size is set to shake up the market.
LIDAR measures distances to objects by firing a short laser pulse at an object and measuring the amount of time it takes the reflected light to return to the sensor. The 3D models generated can be highly accurate. For example, some aircraft-mounted terrain mapping systems have resolutions of 30 cm or even less. For driverless vehicles, having this kind of accuracy could literally mean the difference between life and death. This performance comes at a price, and until now, that price was anywhere from $8000 to $70,000 for commercial LIDAR systems.
To date, most scanning LIDAR systems consist of a laser that scans horizontally over a small subtended angle using mechanical mirrors to deflect the laser. Osram’s prototype consists of 4 individually controllable and vertically mounted laser diodes with micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) based sensors. The result is system with a much greater vertical field of view and no moving parts to be fined tuned or that wear out over time.
From Osram’s press release:
The new laser is a bar consisting of four laser diodes that are separated in the production process but are not individual diodes. The result is a laser that emits four perfectly parallel beams. Our customers no longer have to spend time laboriously adjusting the individual light sources.
The overall system covers a field of view of 120° horizontal and 20° vertical and offers a resolution of 0.1° horizontal and 0.5° vertical. In daylight the range for detecting vehicles is at least 200 meters, and for pedestrians 70 meters.
Osram is expecting to bring this groundbreaking LIDAR system to market in 2018.
The full press release can be read here: http://www.osram-group.de/en/media/news/press-releases/pr-2016/07-11-2016.