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Three tech solutions to three LiDAR problems

In the automotive world, innovations are often matched with new challenges. A car is a combination of hundreds, or even thousands, of integrated electrical, hydraulic, mechanical and computer systems. You can’t add or change one part without impacting a lot of others. One overriding goal when you introduce a new technology is to minimize the impact on the rest of the car.

With LiDAR, there are also multiple challenges. There was the initial cost of the units when the systems were in early development, expenses that came down as the technology matured. There was also the moving parts problem. Spinning devices and other mechanical systems with moving parts added complexity while decreasing reliability – this has always been the biggest challenge. As such, Opsys from the beginning focused on developing and refining its pure scanning solid-state LiDAR.

But there are smaller challenges that deserve attention, too. Recently, when Opsys signed a deal with Wideye, it brought into focus three specific problems Opsys has solved, meaning LiDAR is much closer to becoming a reality on public roads. Specifically, the Opsys LiDAR system addresses these long-standing challenges: it’s not on the roof; it works behind glass; and it produces little heat.

Off the Roof

Early test vehicles that relied on LiDAR for navigation, like Google’s “Koala Cars” of the past decade, had spinning scanning devices on the roof. They looked like a siren you see on a police car or an ambulance. And a lot of the test vehicles in cities like Detroit, Phoenix and San Francisco still have an array of sensors on the roof.

Researchers like the sensors on the roof because that’s an easy way to get a complete, 360-degree view. This is a critical issue in the testing phase when the emphasis is on getting enough data to validate the hardware and the software. But as automated vehicles get out of R&D labs and into showrooms, automakers aren’t going to want to be selling vehicles with ugly contraptions on the roof. Consumers won’t want to buy them. And car designers are certainly going to argue for more elegant, integrated designs.

Opsys Pure Solid-State Scanning LiDAR units can achieve whatever field of vision automakers need by combining sensors at different parts of the car: in the pillars, behind the windshield, in the headlights or taillights, or behind the grille.

Opsys units can be adjusted for narrow or wide fields of view. That means they’ll work with an automaker than needs a more long-distance scanner, like a self-driving car, or one that needs higher definition in a shorter range of distance, like many contemporary ADAS systems. A truck manufacturer may need sensors on the sides of the vehicle to eliminate blind spots. With a solid-state system, countless variations are possible. And none of them need to be on the roof.

Behind the Windshield

One of the trickier technical problems for LiDAR is glass. Because LiDAR shoots beams of light out into the world and they bounce back to the unit, they need to be free from interference. Any material that affects the laser, even by a minute amount, can throw off the calculations that the LiDAR system is using to create its 3-D maps of the world.

Historically, glass has been one of those materials that has interfered with LiDAR performance. This has been a big problem for LiDAR engineers, especially because the top of the windshield is one of the more ideal locations for a LiDAR camera that is seamlessly integrated into the car. Some companies have gone so far as to drill a hole in the windshield to accommodate LiDAR. That’s a workable solution, but it creates problems of its own in dealing with water, snow and weather extremes. You don’t want to have to design tiny defrosters or windshield wipers to keep the LiDAR working. Opsys LiDAR units use a precise beam pattern that can compensate for any potential distortion introduced by the windshield.

When Opsys announced its deal with Wideye in January, it signaled an important breakthrough. Wideye is part of AGC, one of the world’s largest automotive glass producers. Wideye’s mission is to create glass that works with ADAS systems. Working together with Wideye, Opsys has configured a system that maintains LiDAR performance without needing extra parts to keep the LiDAR free of weather interference. The windshield protects the LiDAR unit in the same way it protects the driver and the passengers of the car.

This one project demonstrates that high performance sensors covering a 120-degree field of vision. According to Wideye, integrated windshields will significantly simplify vehicle installation by using existing heating and cleaning components for the windshield.

No Cooling Needed

Another important aspect of the Opsys unit is it operates at a cool temperature. Because there are no moving parts, the system doesn’t generate the same kind of heat that some other LiDAR designs do. It’s a high-efficiency system, so not only does it not get hot, it also doesn’t use much power. This is important because the car’s power can be applied to other uses, like increasing the range of an EV.

Some LiDAR systems include fans or heat sinks to mitigate the heat they generate. They need this to maintain ideal temperature for operating the lasers. But heat can interfere with other parts of the car. If the system is power-intensive, it will need air flow or a thermoelectric cooler to keep it operational. If a LiDAR system doesn’t need that extra piece of equipment, it’s obviously better for automakers that sweat over every added layer of engineering, every gram of weight and every penny added to a vehicle design.

For inside-the-cabin locations like Opsys’ windshield sensor with Wideye, too much heat will make drivers and their passengers uncomfortable. Some of the LiDAR sensors under development today can’t be located near drivers or their passengers. If the sensor unit is too hot, it will also make air conditioner work harder. That’s another energy inefficiency that would reduce the range in an EV or increase the amount of gas consumed by a conventional car – a disadvantage in itself!

If the above is not enough, there are even more benefits to Opsys’ LiDAR! Contact us to learn more.

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