LiDAR is an essential enabling tech for dozens of robot applications. To build them, 3D maps sensors are used to collect pulsed light reflected off a target.
The return time and wavelength changes allow 3D object imaging. To date, LiDAR’s prohibitive costs and complexities have affected their quality and limited their use in 3D applications.
At the Michael R. Watts lab at MIT, researchers are developing LiDAR chips on 300-mm wafers, which they believe could be manufactured for as little as $10.
While existing LiDAR from suppliers like Velodyne and others rely on mechanical spinning of arrays with up to 64 lasers, this new device lacks moving parts, making it potentially faster and more robust.
The LiDAR chips are 0.5 mm x 6 mm silicon photonic chips with steerable transmitting and receiving arrays and germanium photodetectors. Laser light is scattered by silicon notches inside a waveguide and then the time-of-flight measurement is obtained using existing LiDAR technology while avoiding photomultipliers and avalanche photodetectors. As is, the detection ranges from 5 cm to 2 m and the steering range is limited to 51 degrees with possibilities of expanding both the range and angle to 100 meters and 360 degrees, respectively. It will be a few years before these chips are commercialized while the system is being optimized but its impact could be far reaching on robotics and autonomous driving cars.