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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Draper’s New Chip-based LiDAR Gives Cars Ability to ‘See’ Better

CAMBRIDGE, MA— LiDAR technology is at the center of the self-driving car world because it helps cars navigate by providing a real-time 3D map of the vehicle’s environment. The challenge for self-driving cars is that LiDAR technology is expensive—currently available LiDAR units can cost up to $80,000—making it among the most costly elements in a self-driving car. Other obstacles exist; for example, many current LiDAR approaches are constrained by a combination of their limited range, resolution and temperature sensitivity, and reliance on moving parts. 

With a heritage in autonomous systems in unforgiving environments such as undersea and space applications, Draper understands that the ability of an autonomous vehicle to sense and perceive its environment is fundamental to successful travel. Leveraging its core strengths in MEMS development and integrated photonics, Draper has taken a different tack and is developing a solid-state, MEMS-based LiDAR. The concept enables integration of all LiDAR components, with the exception of the lens, onto a single chip. 

According to Dr. Eric Balles, Director of Transport and Energy at Draper, the result is chip-scale LiDAR in a package designed for high-volume manufacturing by the automotive industry and others. “It’s LiDAR on a chip, and nothing like it exists today in the same form factor,” Balles said. “Draper’s goal is a high-resolution, large field-of-view LiDAR unit that fits the critical components onto a single chip and sells for less than $50.” 

Draper’s solid-state MEMS-based LiDAR approach is being developed to image at a range of 300 meters while providing a corresponding angular resolution targeted at less than 0.1-degrees, a significant advancement over competing LiDAR systems, many of which offer lower range and resolution. Draper’s LiDAR would also be capable of scanning at a rate 20 frames of a scene every second. 

Draper’s LiDAR approach is currently being matured in advance of being licensed and integrated into future customer products. The technology has the potential to impact the proliferation of LiDAR sensors in multiple industry sectors, including autonomous vehicles, aerial drones and potentially mobile phones, according to Chris Bessette, Self-driving Vehicle Program Manager at Draper. “LiDAR sensors that leverage this new design will be less expensive, easier to integrate due to their smaller size and more reliable as a result of no moving parts,” Bessette said.

Sabrina Mansur, Technical Director for Autonomous Vehicles at Draper, said “Draper’s innovations in optical systems, MEMS, sensors, microsystems and microfabrication builds on decades of experience in designing, developing and deploying autonomous platforms for space, air, ground, sea and undersea needs.” These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.

Draper is developing a solid-state, MEMS-based LiDAR that fits all components except the optics on a single chip, a significant advancement over competing LiDAR systems.
Capabilities Used
Autonomous Systems

Draper combines mission planning, PN&T, situational awareness, and novel GN&C designs to develop and deploy autonomous platforms for ground, air, sea and undersea needs. These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. The design of these systems generally involves decomposing the mission needs into sets of scenarios that result in trade studies that lead to an optimized solution with key performance requirements.  Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of mission planning, sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.

Microsystems

Draper has designed and developed microelectronic components and systems going back to the mid-1980s. Our integrated, ultra-high density (iUHD) modules of heterogeneous components feature system functionality in the smallest form factor possible through integration of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology with Draper-developed custom packaging and interconnect technology. Draper continues to pioneer custom Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS), Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and custom radio frequency components for both commercial (microfluidic platforms organ assist, drug development, etc.) and government (miniaturized data collection, new sensors, Micro-sats, etc.) applications.  Draper features a complete in-house iUHD and MEMS fabrication capability and has existing relationships with many other MEMS and microelectronics fabrication facilities. 

Image & Data Analytics

Draper combines specific domain expertise and knowledge of how to apply the latest analytics techniques to extract meaningful information from raw data to better understand complex, dynamic processes. Our system design approach encompasses effective organization and processing of large data sets, automated analysis using algorithms and exploitation of results. To facilitate user interaction with these processed data sets, Draper applies advanced techniques to automate understanding and correlation of patterns in the data. Draper’s expertise encompasses machine learning (including deep learning), information fusion from diverse and heterogeneous data sources, optimized coupling of data acquisition and analysis and novel methods for analysis of imagery and video data.

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