Sense Photonics Comes out With High-Tech Flash LiDAR

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【Summary】North Carolina-based startup Sense Photonics has developed a new LiDAR system that can perform better than current ones and isn’t as bulky on vehicles, either. It’s called flash LiDAR.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Sep 18, 2019 6:05 AM PT
Sense Photonics Comes out With High-Tech Flash LiDAR

Tesla leads the market for being one of the first automakers to put highly semi-autonomous vehicles into consumers' hands. The automaker's CEO, Elon Musk, doesn't believe in LiDAR, which is the system that the majority of manufacturers use to give vehicles semi-autonomous capabilities. 

Tesla's approach to autonomy has been multiple cameras, sensors, and a super-powerful computer. A lot of specialists agree with Tesla. But now, a new startup believes it has developed a LiDAR system that's much better than current ones.

LiDAR For The Future
As Forbes reports, North Carolina-based startup Sense Photonics has developed a system called flash LiDAR architecture. According to Sense Photonics' CEO Scott Burroughs, who spoke with the outlet on the phone, the system is "very simple, has no moving parts, fully solid state." The fact that there are no moving parts isn't the only thing that's different from other LiDAR systems.
"We have a unique laser emitter we turn on that sends a high power flash of light into the field of view and the photons recycle off different objects in the field of view and reflect it back toward our LiDAR system to a lens that collects those photons, and images them onto a multiple plane array that contains simple 3D sensor chip that's what generates the 3D point cloud."
Unlike other LiDAR systems, Sense Photonics' utilizes a 3D camera instead of a 2D one. The company believes that the camera results in better information for an autonomous vehicle.
"Because we can design it so it looks at the same field of view as our LiDAR system looks at you could put them both in the same box and overlay the two in software and end up with depth information associated with every pixel in that RGB camera so it's a much richer data set – color high resolution and great depth, compact at lower cost," stated Burroughs.

What Else Is Different?
Other things that differentiate the startup's flash LiDAR from others is the use of 11,000 laser emitters instead of one giant one. That component itself is much cheaper than a traditional LiDAR system , as Burroughs claims that it's one-one hundredth of the cost. 

The system's ability to "see" areas surrounding the vehicle, which current LiDAR systems cannot, is another one of its improvements. This "big black region of about five meters" will drastically help autonomous vehicles navigate through urban areas.
"A robo taxi for an example might pull up to the curb to pick somebody up so he's got be able to look straight down on the side of the automobile in order to see that curb and to also be able to look straight out horizontally to be able to see other people and objects," said Burroughs.
The last thing that flash LiDAR fixes is the massive, blocky components that stand out on the exterior of a vehicle with a regular LiDAR system. Flash LiDAR has two small units that can be incorporated into an automobile more discreetly.  
Whether Musk is right in stating that all LiDAR systems are unnecessary in spite of the development of flash LiDAR still remains to be seen. But for automakers and tech companies, Sense Photonics' flash LiDAR is an interesting proposition over current LiDAR systems if not anything else.

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