'Holy grail' of LiDAR leverages beam-steering metasurfaces

March 29, 2019 //By Rich Pell
Lumotive LiDAR technology leverages beam-steering metasurfaces
Bill Gates-funded LiDAR system startup Lumotive (Seattle, WA) has introduced what it claims is a disruptive beam-steering technology that will significantly improve the performance, reliability, and cost of LiDAR systems for self-driving cars.

Initially targeting the robo-taxi market, the patented system uses liquid crystal metasurfaces (LCM) and silicon fabrication to achieve what the company says are unmatched levels of manufacturing efficiency while simultaneously delivering unprecedented range, resolution, and frame rate.

"Lumotive's solution is ideal for automakers and Tier-1s seeking safer yet more cost-effective perception solutions for their vehicles," says Lumotive co-founder and CEO, Dr. William Colleran. "Our LiDAR sensors benefit tremendously from the unique attributes of beam-steering LCMs which simultaneously offer large optical aperture, wide field-of-view, and fast scanning while having no moving parts. LCMs deliver the combination of performance and commercial viability that will finally eliminate barriers to adoption of LiDAR for both ADAS and autonomous vehicles."

Currently, most LiDAR systems rely on mechanical scanning, which suffers from reliability, cost, and form factor issues and, most importantly, says the company, limits the performance of existing systems. Lumotive's beam-steering technology's use of LCMs - semiconductor chips that steer laser pulses based on the light-bending principles of metamaterials - is said to be a first for LiDAR.

Beam steering, says the company, is the missing link required for high performance and commercially viable LiDAR systems. Traditionally, LiDAR has relied on unreliable and bulky spinning assemblies, while newer LiDAR sensors use MEMS mirrors or optical phased arrays. However, says the company, both approaches lack performance due to the small optical aperture of MEMS mirrors and the low efficiency of phased arrays.

Lumotive's system is claimed to offer a combination of performance advantages:

  • Large optical aperture (25 x 25 mm) which delivers long range
  • 120-degree field-of-view with high angular resolution
  • Fast random-access beam steering

"The LCM chip is the holy grail of LiDAR," says Lumotive co-founder and CTO, Dr. Gleb Akselrod, "finally enabling beam steering using a semiconductor chip but efficiently and over a large optical aperture that’s hundreds of times larger than a MEMS mirror or an optical phased array. Our large aperture is like

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