Nanyang Technological University Researchers Breakthrough Could Reduce Cost of Autonomous Vehicles

Researchers from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have made a breakthrough in the field of light detection and ranging sensors (LiDAR), which could greatly reduce the costs of autonomic vehicles.

Driverless cars use LiDAR sensors to build a three-dimensional (3D) map of objects around the vehicle by using laser diodes to generate laser beams that cover a 360-degree view of a car’s surroundings. These sensors are expensive and short-lived.

“Because of the mechanical moving parts, you have to actually replace the LiDAR before you have to replace your car tires,” said Dr. Nam Donguk, who is the lead researcher on the LiDAR sensors project.

The NTU’s researchers have found a way to emit light from a silicon chip using germanium, instead, which will replace the need for the diodes, a technology called ‘solid state LiDAR.’ Currently, the cheapest conventional LiDAR sensor costs $10,000 SG (~$7300 US), while the solid state micro LiDAR chip is expected to cost just $50 SG (~$36 US) when it is commercially available.

“Since we can make our LiDAR chip with our technology using mass production, which means anybody can buy it with maybe $50 SG, it will open up the opportunities for maybe smaller companies who want to make autonomous vehicle technology to be ready,” said Dr Nam. “As of now, conventional LiDAR is too expensive, so not many companies can really jump in so easily.”

Also, the image quality from the micro LiDAR silicon chip will be of a much higher resolution, due to the density of lasers on the chip, and images will be able to be retrieved much faster than with conventional LiDAR sensors.