Automotive LiDAR Technology

Machine perception - robots learn to see using LiDAR

© Fraunhofer IPMS
Micromirror for two-dimensional light deflection.

To enable machine vision in three dimensions, a team of researchers at Fraunhofer IPMS is developing a "scanning eye". The institute has been working for years on so-called MEMS scanning mirrors, which are used for the targeted deflection of light for applications in industry, medicine and everyday life. These compact micro-optical components with integrated drives are extremely robust and reliable.

 

Machine 3D vision with LIDAR

Installed at the end of a robot arm, a scanner mirror can make the robot "aware" at any time of what is happening in its environment, what work steps it has to complete and what the quality of its work is. This scanner module is a kind of eye for the robot, which takes high-resolution images in the three spatial axes. The system directs and detects a laser beam in two dimensions and simultaneously captures the depth as a third dimension by measuring the time of flight of the light between the object and the detector, also known as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). Production facilities or vehicles equipped with this scanning technology gain a reliable understanding of their surroundings, paving the way for fully autonomous systems.

 

Advanced Machine Perception - 4D

As an expansion stage of the system, broadband light sources can be used to obtain spectral information about solid, liquid or gaseous substances. In addition to the time-of-flight measurement, an optical grating on the micromirror is used to control the reflection depending on the wavelength, which enables the spectral analysis of different substances. This system approach is not only used as a safety feature in human-machine interfaces, but can also be used for monitoring the quality of drinking water, quality testing in the field of pharmaceuticals, remote monitoring of production plants or as a leakage test for pipelines. In this way, the developments at Fraunhofer IPMS enable a new way of recording environmental data, so that plants can be operated more safely, processes can be more stable and personal contact with hazardous substances can be avoided.

 

Advantages of the "scanning eye"

  • Non-contact environment analysis
  • Ultra-high resolution
  • Extremely compact
  • Perfect for mobile applications
  • Robust, reliable and maintenance-free

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Fraunhofer IPMS develops silicon-based high-performance MEMS mirrors for LiDAR sensors for autonomous and safe driving.

Sensory organ for the car - Research team at Fraunhofer IPMS develops scanning eye for autonomous driving

© shutterstock (temp-64GTX)
LiDAR technology to scan the environment for autonomous driving.

In autonomous vehicles, the human is only a passenger. The car keeps the lane independently and recognises obstacles and dangers. To enable the vehicle to recognise its environment, optical sensors replace the driver's eye. Fraunhofer IPMS is developing microscanning mirrors (MEMS scanners) that can perceive their surroundings reliably and without interference while being small and integrable. The vision of safe autonomous driving is thus within reach.

Fraunhofer IPMS' is pursuing the approach of a "scanning eye" to enable digital vision in three dimensions. A micromirror module scans the environment by distributing the light of a laser in two dimensions. The third dimension of the light reflected from the object is determined by the detector signal. There are different methods, such as time-of-flight measurement, coded pulses or demodulation of FMCW signals.

Current LiDAR systems for autonomous driving are based on large rotating mirrors around an axis, which are difficult to integrate into vehicles due to their size and weight. Other disadvantages are the high manufacturing costs and the susceptibility of the rotating parts to vibration and shock. This results in measurement inaccuracies, which in the worst case can lead to system failure and accidents. Alternatives are so-called solid state lidars, which have no moving parts and can be integrated due to their small size, but these have difficulty detecting objects at a greater distance. For safe autonomous driving, detection ranges of a few centimetres to several hundred metres are necessary.

"The special thing about the MEMS mirrors we have developed is that they reliably detect their surroundings at all ranges. In addition, they are so light and integrable that they are not affected by vibrations in the car despite their mobility and thus detect their surroundings without measurement blurring," explains Dr Grahmann, a researcher at Fraunhofer IPMS. "This means that scanner mirror designs from the IPMS fulfil both mechanical mobility and the stability of a solid state LiDAR. In this way, autonomous driving can be implemented safely." Because the MEMS scanner developed by IPMS is made of single-crystal silicon, it is also extremely robust, shock-stable and fatigue-free. Cost-effective semiconductor manufacturing processes allow for scaling effects in production. The CMOS compatibility of the semiconductor chip also enable a high level of integration capability in existing systems.