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Time of Flight Light Detection and Ranging sensors, ToF LiDAR sensors

The American business magazine, Forbes [1], recently reported about the partnership between LiDAR sensor provider Ouster and the semiconductor company Xilinx, and how they are aiming to develop a complete solution for their digital LiDAR sensors for automotive applications. In order to comply with fully autonomous vehicles, they underline how parts of the solution need to include V2V, V2I, and V2X communication. Accordingly, the on-board sensor platform needs to be reliable and ensure both safety and performance quality which Ouster is confident to achieve with Xilinx as a partner. Other valuable components for the platform, stated by Ouster, are the automotive certified Xilinx FPGA products, which will meet the inputs and outputs needed by the sensors, the software, and the system performance. Ouster also took the opportunity to emphasize that they are using the so-called Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) for their LiDAR sensors and that they are also exploring (VCSEL)-based flash LiDAR. This, in combination with their low-cost SPAD architecture and Xilinx processing, may result in a potential flash LiDAR sensor sooner than previously thought. 

Another LiDAR sensor provider on everyone’s lips lately is LUMINAR. Automotive News [2] reports that LUMINAR just went public with a $3.4 billion merger deal with blank-check company Gores Metropolus Inc. Austin Russel, the CEO of LUMINAR, explains that LUMINAR and its current investors will end up owning approx. 80 % of the company while Gores Metropoulos will own approx. 11 % of the company. $400 million in cash will be paid from Gores Metropoulos, and another $170 million will be paid from other investors, including Thiel and a unit of Volvo Cars AB.

According to Gores, the CEO of Gores Metropoulos, LUMINAR has developed the only LiDAR technology that meets the most stringent safety specifications of carmakers, and they did so from scratch. "LUMINAR is well-positioned to dominate the autonomous landscape," he added.

 

Personal comment

LiDAR sensor will most probably be part of the perception sensor stack on our future autonomous vehicles, just as RADAR, ultrasonic, and cameras are today. But, as always it is a matter of cost, form factor, power consumption, and performance. Both mentioned companies produce so-called Time-of-flight (ToF) LiDAR sensors but they differ quite a lot in how the Light Detection and Ranging is achieved. For example, the sensors use different wavelengths for the laser emitted. Hence, the sensors use different detectors for detecting the photons reflected. Their laser diodes also differ as well as their solutions for steering the beams. And just like every other LiDAR provider, both companies claim to utilize the best techniques for the money spent, size, and power consumption. But, at the end of the day, I think, that the winning LiDAR sensor provider will be the one who can offer a “smart” LiDAR sensor. Such as a LiDAR sensor that identifies and tracks the objects detected within a reasonable range and resolution.

 

Written by Joakim Rosell, RISE

 

Sources

1. 2020-08-24 Ouster And Xilinx Partner To Bring Cost-Effective LiDAR To Autonomous Vehicles

2. 2020-08-24 Lidar supplier Luminar going public in $3.4 billion merger deal