LIDAR: How Smart Active Alignment Mechanisms Can Reduce Manufacturing Costs
24 March 2023
LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) is what will give tomorrow’s vehicles their eyes— eyes capable of identifying paths, obstacles, hazards, and conditions. LIDAR gives depth perception, critical for safe navigation of rapidly-changing dynamic environments. It is the key technology underlying such formerly fantastical concepts as autonomous vehicles, driver-assisted smart-cars, and smart roadways.
At this time, these new implementations appear to divide into two basic classes: the first is solid state and utilizes photonic mechanisms surprisingly similar to some of what we see in MEMS and silicon photonics, while the second bears more resemblance to smartphone cameras, supermarket scanners, and other applications of bulk optics.
Each path has its adherents and partisans. And all share a looming crisis: the need for lower cost and higher volume manufacturing to meet. Only then can transportation’s smart future unfold.
Top among these manufacturing-ready solutions is the hexapod, a six-degree-of-freedom micro-robot. The most advanced scanning optimization algorithms in their firmware that facilitate simultaneous optimization of multiple elements and multiple degrees of freedom. In Silicon Photonics, this combination of parallel functionalities has been proven to reduce alignment times by typically 99% or more.
In these applications, they provide six degrees of freedom of motion together with a freely settable rotational centerpoint that allows millidegree-scale rotation precisions about optically desirable points, such as beam waists, focal points, and waveguide end-faces. Similarly, the coordinate system is not fixed in space as it is with conventional stacked assemblies, and it can be cast and rotated to facilitate the application with simple software commands.
Multiple mechanisms of this type, together with other motorized and piezoelectric motion elements, can be arrayed to perform simultaneous optimizations in multiple-element devices. This allows fast alignment of multiple refractive, diffractive, and reflective elements for assembly and test.
These attributes are now being leveraged by pioneering LIDAR manufacturers to drive costs down, propel volumes up, and keep ahead of the abundant competition.
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