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LiDAR with MEMs beamsteering launched for autonomous vehicles

12 Dec 2019

Draper’s technology enables self-driving cars to perceive surroundings at greater distances.

LiDAR is often considered the primary type of sensor for self-driving cars, given its capability to create high-definition maps of the surrounding environment.

Currently, most LiDAR systems rely on mechanical scanning, which can suffers from poor reliability and high cost. In contrast, systems developer Draper has come up with a LiDAR-on-a-chip that uses patented, all-digital MEMS optical switches for beamsteering.

Draper says its all-digital switches “provide robustness for the harsh automotive environment, which offers advantages over competing solid-state approaches that rely on analog beamsteering.”

In addition, the use of novel components, such as optical switches, MEMS and integrated photonics, all integrated on a single-chip, allows Draper to surpass current LiDARs in range and resolution, the company states.

Solid state

The result is that Draper has successfully developed a high resolution, solid state LiDAR that images objects at up to 50 meters. In the development of this achievement, Draper demonstrated low-loss waveguides with verified losses under 1dB/cm and MEMS optical switches with lifetimes surpassing 10 billion cycles.

With the new LiDAR system, light is emitted through a matrix of optical switches and collected through the same optical switches, which allows for a favorable signal-to-noise ratio, since little ambient light is collected.

Draper’s LiDAR is being developed to image a range of hundreds of meters while providing a corresponding angular resolution targeted at less than 0.1 degrees, a significant advance over competing LiDAR systems, many of which offer lower range and resolution, claims the company.

Sabrina Mansur, Draper’s self-driving vehicle program manager., commented, “At Draper, we have experience with differing beamsteering methods, such as optical phased arrays. However, we feel MEMS optical switches provide an elegant simplicity.”

“If we want to image a target at a specified location, we simply enable the corresponding optical switch, whereas other approaches rely on precise analog steering, which is challenging given automotive’s thermal and vibration environment,” she said.

The new offering, which is now available to license, adds to Draper’s growing portfolio of autonomous system and self-driving car capabilities. The portfolio includes the Draper APEX Gyroscope—a MEMS gyroscope that provides centimeter-level localization accuracy, and Draper’s all-weather LiDAR technology, named Hemera, a detection capability designed to “see” through dense fog and which is compatible with most LiDAR systems.

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