LiDAR Everywhere

Hydra-Matic drive article

A brief history of automotive innovations

You used to have to learn to drive a stick shift or you wouldn’t be able to drive a car. But General Motors changed that in 1939, when it introduced the Hydra-Matic in its Cadillac and Oldsmobile brands. The world’s first mass-produced, fully automatic transmission freed up a driver’s hand from constantly changing gears, and a leg from constantly having to press the clutch. This reduced driving complexity and allowed a wider population to own and operate motor vehicles. Over the years, many other OEMs began to offer premium vehicles with automatic transmissions which took off in adoption rate. Fast forward to today in the United States, and automatic transmissions are standard on pretty much all makes and models.

Hydra-Matic drive comparison - steps to start your car
Simplification of vehicle operation enabled by GM’s Hydra-Matic (source: Oldsmobile Division, General Motors)

During this time, we also witnessed the standardization of automatic door locks, power windows, cruise control, and anti-lock brakes. Most of these new features were originally introduced in premium vehicles and became widely adopted. Soon, we’ll see a similar adoption trend for assisted and automated driving features. Vehicles will offer ADAS features as standard due to improved safety benefits especially as enabling technologies scale and costs continue to fall.

The first reverse camera was introduced in a production vehicle in the 1991 Toyota Soarer while the earliest lane departure warning (LDW) system was offered on the 1992 Mitsubishi Debonair. The first ultrasonic sensors for assisted parking were also offered in the early 90’s. In 1998, the Mercedes-Benz DISTRONIC system was the first to use a 77 GHz long-range radar for active safety, pioneering the way for adaptive cruise control (ACC). By 2014, cameras in vehicles had become so ubiquitous that a federal regulation by NHTSA mandated that backup cameras be included on all new vehicles built after 2018. Today, common L2 ADAS features including LDW, ACC, and automatic emergency braking (AEB) are available on almost all cars, whereas premium vehicles are beginning to showcase L2+ features such as automatic lane changes and traffic jam assist.

So what’s next?

LiDAR is empowering the next generation of automotive innovation

Vehicles have to perceive their environment, plan a path, and execute driving functions to bring L3, L4, and L5 autonomy to the masses. But to do so safely, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers agree that another sensor modality must be added to the vehicle’s sensing suite to supplement shortcomings found in cameras, radars, and ultrasonic sensors. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors are poised to fill that gap by providing real-time, high-resolution depth information without ambiguity in daytime and at night.

The race to supply LiDARs in automotive is well on its way with more than 90 companies around the world attempting to bring the technology to consumer vehicles. But creating new technology that can be manufactured in large volumes, at low-cost, and meet OEM durability requirements is extremely difficult. And many companies facing these challenges are learning that they can’t meet price targets needed for series production programs due to the complexity of their LiDAR architecture.

Simplicity always prevails in automotive products because the industry values ease of manufacturing and validation. However, LiDARs have historically been a complex piece of hardware with pulsed lasers, scanning mechanics, and lots of optical components. Even the tooling required to build the sensors can be expensive and involve complex calibration and alignment procedures.

But what if there was a way to bypass all the complexity and reduce cost?

Project “Godzilla”

That’s exactly what Sense set out to do more than 2 years ago, with a project internally known as “Godzilla.” The goal was to create a pure flash LiDAR architecture that could benefit from Moore’s law of improvements and utilize wafer-scale fabrication. In other words, we needed to create dense lasers and receivers using standard CMOS processes and build LiDARs without requiring precise calibration and alignment.

And now Project Godzilla has succeeded as we’ve finished designing a high-resolution SPAD array to pair with our Sense Illuminator and pave the way for a camera-like, data-rich, 100% solid-state flash LiDAR that’s easy to design, build, and deploy. Sense will soon unveil key LiDAR products that allow OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to bring L3, L4, and L5 autonomy to mass-market consumer vehicles.

Freedom of mobility obtained by autonomous vehicles will have a significant impact on urban planning and development, leading to safer and greener cities. So at Sense, we’re eager to lead the standardization of autonomy and turn the driver into a passenger.

Learn more about the game-changing technologies available from Sense Photonics.

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