LIDAR plays a major role in automotive, as vehicles perform tasks with less and less human supervision and intervention. As a leader in VCSEL, ams is helping to shape this revolution.

LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is an optical sensing technology that measures the distance to other objects. It is currently known for many diverse applications in industrial, surveying, and aerospace, but is a true enabler for autonomous driving. As the automotive manufacturers continue their push to design and release high-complexity autonomous systems, we likewise develop the technology that will enable this. That is why ams continues to bring our high-power VCSELs to the automotive market and to test the limits on peak power, shorter pulses, and additional scanning features which enable our customers to improve their LIDAR systems.

In 2019, ams together with ZF and Ibeo announced a hybrid solution called True Solid State where, like flash technology, no moving parts are needed to capture the full scene around the vehicle. By sequentially powering a portion of the laser, a scanning pattern can be generated, combining the advantages of flash and scan systems.


Making sense of the LIDAR landscape

At ams, we classify LIDAR systems on seven elements: ranging principle, wavelength, beam steering principle, emitter technology and layout, and receiver technology and layout. Here we discuss the first five.

The most dominant implementation to measure distance (ranging) is Direct Time of Flight (DTOF): a short (few nanoseconds) laser pulse is emitted, reflected by an object and returned to a receiver. The time difference between sending and receiving can be converted into a distance measurement. Moreover, with duty cycles of <1% this system takes thousands of distance measurements per second. The laser pulse is typically in the 850-940nm rage, components are readily available and most affordable. However, systems can also be using 1300 or 1550nm, the big advantage is eye safety regulations allow more energy to be used here, and in theory, this provides more range. The downside is that components are expensive.

To scan the complete surroundings (or field of view) of a vehicle, the system needs to be able to shoot pulses in all directions. This is the beam steering principle. Classical systems used rotating sensor heads and mirrors to scan the field of view section by section. As these systems are bulky, they are being replaced by static systems with internal moving mirrors. MEMS mirrors are also about to enter the market. Another approach is flash, where no moving parts are needed at all. The light source illuminates the complete field of view, and the sensor captures that same field in a single frame like a photo. As the full scene is illuminated, and to remain eye safe, this means the range must