Lidar is a significant technology for autonomous vehicles to recognize and detect objects in their surroundings. Researchers have targeted the critical component of lidar – optical beam-steering. They created a device that is significantly cheaper to manufacture, lighter, and more resource-efficient than previous variations of the technology. The difference with the new approach to lidar is that it uses micro-electromechanical optical beam steering. The compact lidar could pave the way for a smaller autonomous craft like drones and robots and help improve vehicle profitability.
The new compact lidar approach incorporates integrated micro-opto-mechanics, in which the researchers built a tunable grating into the surface of a silicon chip. They control the beam’s direction by varying the grating period.
Optical beam steering also has applications in three-dimensional imaging in medical diagnostics, using a technique known as optical coherence tomography. The miniaturized technology could help insert a scanner into the body during keyhole surgery and detect tissue changes.
The researchers cut costs using the same production techniques used to make smartphone accelerometers and gyroscopes. The compact lidar advancement may also eliminate the need for remote control on drones designed to deliver emergency medical equipment to remote locations, such as defibrillators. Another possibility is smartphone facial recognition.