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How FMCW Lidar Is A Game Changer For Autonomous Driving

Technology is changing every aspect of life. Almost every industry feels the wave; the automotive field is not exceptional.

Today, cars are superior to those made a decade ago. They are packed with modern powers like ultrasonic sensors, parking assistance, cameras, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic emergency brake. All of which allow the vehicles to sense the road ahead.

But there’s more to come! The latest Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) lidar technology is out. It’s a game-changer, self-driving technology that improves light conditions and allows cars to detect objects from about 400 meters away. This will revolutionize the entire vehicle, autonomous driving, and lidar systems.

But first;

What Is a LIDAR System, And How Is It Used In Cars?

Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) is a sensor technology capable of creating a map of the surroundings around it. Initially, they were spinning cylindrical objects on the car. Still, they are sleeker, which makes maps essential for self-driven car features.

The LIDAR sensors work by sending infrared light and measuring the time taken for light to bounce to and back from the item to the sensor. It then calculates the object’s variable distance using a pulse laser. The light pulses that bounce back into the sensor plus other data collected by airborne networks will help create a 3D information map about the surroundings.

This map is essential for self-driving cars and helps them see their surroundings. With the cameras and radar, LIDAR technology ensures more depth and allows cars to operate at night. Laser, scanner, and GPS receivers are amongst the primary LIDAR components used to collect information about the surroundings. Optics and photo-detectors are also essential in analyzing the data collected.

In summary, therefore, LIDAR works on a simple principle that involves throwing laser light at an item on the earth’s surface then calculating the amount of time light takes to return to the LIDAR source.

The following systems facilitate the flawless function of the LIDAR:

  • Airborne LIDAR which is installed on drones or helicopters to help collect data. Once activated, they will emit light to the ground surface that immediately returns to the sensor upon hitting an object.
  • Terrestrial LIDAR- These are installed on moving cars or on tripods installed on the earth’s surface to help collect accurate information points. They are most commonly used to analyze infrastructure, observe highways, and collect data outside or inside a building.

Types of LIDAR

There are two categories of LIDAR; Time of Flight (ToF), LIDAR, which is the most common type, and FMCW or frequency-modulated continuous wave. Though they perform the same function, they have their own merits and demerits.

Time of Flight LIDAR.

This type of LIDAR uses exceptionally high power optical pulses in a shorter duration of nanoseconds and captures detailed data over a short distance. It measures the distance by illuminating an item through modulated light sources like sensors sensitive to a laser wavelength.

Advantages of ToF LIDAR

  • Offers faster response time compared to any structured light
  • Offers higher sensor resolution with a larger field of view for proper object classification

Disadvantages of ToF LIDAR

  • It provides a lower resolution
  • The degraded performance caused by the solid ambient light produced

Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) Lidar

FMCW lidar is the most famous and latest lidar system. It produces a continuous stream of light and can measure the speed or velocity of objects to determine what is going away from or going towards the car. They are less prone to sunlight interference.

The major disadvantage of this type of lidar is the size, as manufacturers have to use more giant mirrors with render finders and sensors to create a larger field of view. Also, it has a higher cost of production.

How Is FMCW LIDAR The Self-Driving Game Changer?

By sending out continuous waves or a stream of lights, FMCW offers significant advantages over another form of lidar. Some of the outstanding benefits include;

It Sees Farther

FMCW has a better range of up to 400 meters allowing drivers to see farther. This gives the drivers more time to react to various unexpected objects or obstacles.

Also, the continuous flash ensures the drivers can see even those objects that don’t reflect light; a good example is joggers who may have dark clothing. Since they are compelling, they’re capable of detecting the smallest amount of light in their surroundings.

Instantly Measures Speed Data Points

With the accurate and faster tracking of data, FMCW gives drivers more time to understand how fast objects are moving, allowing them to flawlessly maneuver the motion.

Also, instantaneous velocity makes it easy for the perception systems to identify sparse and distant data points or track how items move over time. This ensures better motion planning for a suitable reaction.

It Is Less Static

The traditional lidar systems can easily be affected by crosstalk or when sensors are confused by light pulses, solar loading, or sometimes self-interference. Such errors will negatively affect the data collected, resulting in problems like drivers seeing objects that don’t exist (ghosts). They may also develop a tendency to report things in the wrong places.

However, FMCW doesn’t experience such challenges because it has sensors specifically created to respond to their own light pulses. That means it would give a more correct and accurate perception system to enable smoother and faster driving.

It’s Easier to Scale

FMCW leverages the latest technological advancements where self-driving vehicles continually evolve to become more robust with no or fewer interference concerns like sensor crosstalk.

Again, FMCW lidar can quickly be produced on single chips, easily calibrated through automated software. Even better, its sensors are scalable and more affordable, especially during cutting-edge performances.

FMCW lidar is the game-changer for self-driven vehicles. It will accelerate the driver’s ability to move faster and smoothly, ensure scalable sensors, and instantly measure the velocity of data points. The performance is expected to get better with time and advancements in technology.

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