The Disrupters: Cutting LiDAR costs to advance autonomous vehicles

“TriLumina has solved the main impediment to automotive laser radar or LiDAR – the high cost of the laser emitter,” claims Kirk Otis president and CEO at TriLumina.

He said that the company is on target to replace a $6,000 (£4,140) laser with a $60 semiconductor laser in a new high resolution flash LiDAR system. This kind of capability could significantly accelerate the industry’s move to autonomous vehicles.

“We are leveraging semiconductor based lasers, which are fast, manufactural, reliable and inexpensive to produce,” said Otis explaining that traditionally, the designs have limited power but, by building them in arrays in a novel design, it becomes possible to scale the power.

Collision avoidance sensors, mapping and software will all come under the microscope at TU-Automotive's Active Safety Europe 2016: ADAS to Autonomous conference in May.

Otis sees a lot of potential for innovation in the area of driver monitoring technology. For this reason, TriLumina is pursuing two applications in the automotive industry, LiDAR and Smart Illumination.

“LiDAR can be used in a sensor fusion application to provide ranging data overlay to radar and visual systems.”

A driver monitoring system that reminds the driver to remain focused will also improve safety on the road.

Otis said that there is the possibility of LiDAR being applied to infrastructure such as traffic control systems. For example, it can be used to detect vehicles approaching traffic signals and cause the signals to sequence, improving traffic flow, saving vehicle momentum and , hence, fuel, saving travel time and improving the environment.  

 “The light sources TriLumina is bringing to the market can be used in a variety of LiDAR implementations including full field of view flash (FOV), scanning applications and a hybrid where the FOV is divided horizontally at the source and vertically as the received,” said Otis.

Analysing LiDAR data can be used to upgrade the infrastructure of cities thanks to improved quality and consistency of data about the space surrounding the car. In a sensor fusion application, LiDAR will be able to help determine false positives from radars and assure free space detection.

LiDAR data also faces the challenge of high cost but that isn’t the only problem. A survey conducted by geospatial data software specialists LizardTech revealed that 22% of respondents named cost of acquisition as the number one challenge of working with LiDAR data. Out of the correspondents who work with LiDAR, 18% cited file sizes being too large to work within apps, 16% complained about the lack of expertise, 6% mentioned software functionality and 5% had a problem with either delivery or search/retrieval.

“Every sensor has limitations and the confidence intervals of the decisions being made by autonomous systems can be improved by using complementation and redundant technologies. Radar systems suffer from false positives, sensor saturation and cannot sense lateral motion. Visual systems rely on sufficient ambient light and must be able to discern the edges of objects,” said Otis. He added that LiDAR is assessing these issues.

The other application pursued by Otis is Smart Illumination which provides a dynamically lit scene where dynamic gain control can be achieved variably across the field of view.

With an impact on mobility, the Smart Illumination system can be used to properly light the FOV to avoid over saturation so that the driver’s state can be determined. Additional uses can include recognition of the eye gaze, head position as well as sensing for gestures for a more natural user interface.

The challenges facing today’s urban environment and the automotive industry go hand-in-hand according to Otis who has over 20 years of experience in business assessment and restructuring.

“The automotive market is slow to embrace new technology and capabilities which generally works in 3 to 6 year development/deployment cycles. It’s is a business issue more than a technology issue and making the adoptions cycle slow.”

According to the European Roadmap Smart Systems for Automated Driving published last year, autopilots will be available in vehicles with highly developed monitoring systems allowing them to act instantly to avoid collisions and handle dangerous situations by 2025 at the latest.

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