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Nanophotonic technology: the heart of the smallest Lidar sensor

A new approach based on nanophotonic technology could revolutionize Lidar systems.

A new paper in Nature Nanotechnology proposes combining several technologies to create a fast, accurate Lidar that fits on a finger.

Nanophotonic technology: the heart of the smallest Lidar sensor

Nanophotonic technology meaning

It is the set of sciences and technologies involved in the production of photons, their propagation, and their absorption by matter.

The photonic properties of condensed matter depend as much on the intrinsic properties of its constituents.

Namely, its molecules, crystal lattice, etc as on their organization at nanometric scales.

Thus, nanophotonics deals with the interactions of light with matter at sub-wavelength scales (the wavelength of visible light is between 400 and 700nm).


What is a LiDAR?

LiDAR is a remote sensing and ranging method similar to radar, but it emits pulses of infrared light, instead of radio waves.

Then, it measures the return time after they are reflected off nearby objects.

Every second, LiDAR takes millions of precise distance measurement points, from which a 3D matrix of its surroundings can be produced.

LiDAR is a technology that creates a three-dimensional representation of the world.

The device emits a laser and then captures the light reflected from a surface.

By measuring the time it takes to travel back and forth, and thus calculates the distance to an object.

Autonomous cars use a scanning system, the size of two adult fists stacked on top of each other, with transmitters and receivers that rotate.

LiDAR is increasingly being used in devices such as autonomous cars, drones, and even the iPhone.

However, the most accurate systems are too bulky and cost tens of thousands of Euros.

In an article published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, a team of South Korean and French researchers propose a solution using nanophotonic technology.

That could reduce the size of Lidar systems to a chip that fits on the tip of a finger.


New study:  Lidar emits cloud of light points

The researchers' approach would be more like the Lidar built into the iPhone, with the emission of a cloud of dots.

However, it would perform better and achieve much higher resolution by combining meta-surfaces, soliton micro-combs, and optical waveguides.

"If this research is successful, we will be able to make affordable, ultra-fast, ultra-accurate Lidar systems," said Professor Junsuk Rho.

This type of LiDAR will not reach the market right away since their proposals are theoretical for now.

However, such a system could improve the operation of autonomous cars.

And would be thin and light enough to be integrated into drones, robots, cameras, and augmented reality systems.


Automotive and mobility applications of LiDAR

Vehicles of all kinds use LiDAR to determine what obstacles are nearby and how far away they are.

LiDAR components generate 3D maps that can detect objects, determine their position and even identify them.

The subtleties discovered by LiDAR also help the vehicle's computer system predict the behavior of objects and adjust driving accordingly.

Semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles rely on an amalgam of sensor technologies.

This array of sensors includes radar, which provides consistent distance and speed measurements and has little weather-related performance penalty.

But has lower resolution and can hardly map small details at long distances.

Camera vision, commonly used in automotive and mobility, provides high-resolution 2D information.

However, it relies heavily on powerful artificial intelligence and related software to translate the captured data into 3D interpretations.

Environmental conditions and lighting can greatly affect camera-based vision technology.

LiDAR, on the other hand, provides accurate 3D measurement data over short and long distances, even when weather and lighting are challenging.

It can be combined with other sensory data to produce a highly accurate representation of static and moving objects in the vehicle environment.

As a result, LiDAR technology has become a very accessible solution to enable obstacle detection.

 Also, it is a solution to voidance, as well as safe navigation of different environments in a variety of vehicles.

Today, LiDAR technology is used in a number of important automotive and mobility applications, including advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous driving.


Main advantages of LiDAR

Resolution and accuracy

LiDAR instantly generates a huge amount of measurements and can be accurate to within a centimeter.

3D mapping

LiDAR data is easily converted into 3D maps used to interpret the environment.

Low light performance

LiDAR is unaffected by ambient light variations and works well in all low-light conditions.

Speed

LiDAR data is a direct measurement of distance.

Since it does not need to be deciphered or interpreted, it allows for fast operation and reduces the amount of processing required.


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