What is LiDAR?

LiDAR is a remote detection and ranging method that works much like radar, emitting infrared light pulses instead of radio waves and measuring how long they take to come back after hitting nearby objects. The time between the output laser pulse and the reflected pulse allows the LiDAR sensor to calculate the distance to each object precisely, based on the speed of light. LiDAR captures millions of such precise distance measurement points each second, from which a 3D matrix of its environment can be produced. Information on objects’ position, shape, and behavior can be obtained from this comprehensive mapping of the environment.


LiDAR for Automotive and Mobility Applications

Vehicles of all types use LiDAR to determine which obstacles are nearby and how far away they are. The 3D maps provided by LiDAR components not only to detect and position objects but also identify what they are. Insights uncovered by LiDAR also help a vehicle’s computer system to predict how objects will behave, and adjust the vehicle’s driving accordingly.

Semi- and fully-autonomous vehicles use a combination of sensor technologies. This sensor suite includes Radar, which provides constant distance and velocity measurements as well as superior all-weather performance, but lacks in resolution, and struggles with the mapping of finer details at longer ranges. Camera vision, also commonly used in automotive and mobility applications, provides high-resolution information in 2D. However, there is a strong dependency on powerful Artificial Intelligence and corresponding software to translate captured data into 3D interpretations. Environmental and lighting conditions may significantly impact camera vision technology.

LiDAR, in contrast, offers precise 3D measurement data over short to long ranges, even in challenging weather and lighting conditions. This technology can be combined with other sensory data to provide a more reliable representation of both static and moving objects in the vehicle’s environment.

Hence, LiDAR technology has become a highly accessible solution to enable obstacle detection, avoidance, and safe navigation through various environments in a variety of vehicles. Today, LiDARs are used in many critical automotive and mobility applications, including Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and Autonomous driving.

Key LiDAR Benefits

Resolution & Accuracy:

LiDAR generates instantaneous, massive amounts of measurements, and can be accurate to a centimeter

3D Mapping:

LiDAR data can be easily converted into 3D maps to interpret the environment

Low Light Performance:

LiDAR is unaffected by ambient light variations, and performs well in low any light conditions;

Speed:

LiDAR data are direct distance measurements that don’t need to be deciphered or interpreted– thus enabling faster performance and reducing processing requirement.

“LiDAR offers hard, computer-friendly data in the form of exact measurements. That’s why every serious player in the self-driving car race believes the laser sensor is an indispensable ingredient for a fully robot car, the kind that doesn’t need a steering wheel or a human hand.”

Alex Davies, Wired.com

The Market Opportunity for LiDAR

With its unique ability to provide reliable detection and ranging over short to long distances, LiDAR technology is used in multiple industries and applications. Autonomous driving requires LiDAR to complement and complete the existing automotive sensor suite (i.e., Camera vision, Radar, and Ultrasonic technologies), creating a new, fast-growing opportunity for the proliferation of LiDAR with strong demand and large volumes.

According to Wallstreet and market research firms, it is estimated that the automotive LiDAR market was estimated at US$ 353.0 million in 2017 and is anticipated to reach US$ 8.32 billion by 2028 (source: BIS Research). AD now represents the most significant investment segment in new automotive technologies, ahead of electrification and remote connectivity.

The mass-market deployment of fully autonomous (SAE Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy) vehicles is a long-term goal that will require greater integration of LiDAR technology. For the next decade, however, passenger cars within the Level 2+ and Level 3 automation categories (ADAS and semi-autonomous driving) are expected to be the most deployed commercially, and will most likely represent the most substantial opportunity for automotive LiDARs.


Mechanical Vs. Solid-State LiDARs

Automakers are eagerly awaiting the availability of automotive-grade LiDAR solutions that will provide an optimal cost-performance ratio while enabling high levels of automation in production vehicles. Mechanical Scanning LiDARs, which have proven popular in R&D and AD system prototyping, have several shortcomings that need to be addressed.

A Mechanical Scanning LiDAR can collect data over a wide area of up to 360 degrees by physically rotating a laser/receiver assembly, or by using a rotating mirror to steer a light beam. Mechanical Scanning LiDARs use powerful, collimated lasers that concentrate the return signal on the detector through highly focused optics.  While they provide a detailed mapping of the environment, their high price (i.e., several-to-tens of thousands of dollars), complexity, reliability issues, and large dimensions make them an unattractive option for commercial deployments in automotive and mobility applications.

Solid-state designs, built without motorized mechanical scanning, have been recognized as the best avenue for delivering mass-market automotive LiDAR solutions. Their more straightforward build with no moving mechanical parts makes them intrinsically more cost-efficient to produce, providing a path to high-volume manufacturing and commercial viability. Flash LiDARs, in particular, provide complete, instantaneous scene illumination. They capture incremental insights on objects using significantly less data than point cloud methods, enabling highly efficient processing.

LeddarTech engages in solid-state LiDAR platform design for automotive-grade and mobility applications.