Analog Devices’ lidar is flying under the radar

Analog Devices’ lidar is flying under the radar

Interviews |
By Peter Clarke

That’s according to Stefan Steyerl director of sales for mobility and transportation at Analog Devices. In an interview conducted at Embedded World in Nuremberg he pointed out to eeNews Europe that at level 3 autonomy and above – level 5 is full autonomy – any system will need a coherent combination of optical systems, radar and lidar.

“You need all three. There’s only two cars in production that have lidar; the Audi A8 and the Audi A7,” Steyerl said.

Stefan Steyerl, director of sales for mobility
and transportation at Analog Devices

And Analog Devices has its own lidar and radar solutions for autonomous vehicles. “We decided not to invest in cameras. There’s plenty of that technology and really it’s all about the processing. But in lidar we can demonstrate the whole signal path,” he added.

Early prototypes of lidar were constructed with rotating heads but these are bulky and were never going to be acceptable to automobile makers, said Steyerl. The automobile makers needed to preserve their sleek aerodynamic profiles and were clearly going to opt eventually for some sort of beam-steering solution.

And this was the reason ADI acquired technology from Vescent Photonics Inc. (Golden, Colorado) in November 2016, which had developed a liquid-crystal-based laser beam steering technology (see Analog Devices buys laser-beam-steering tech in LIDAR push).

Optical cameras are good for object recognition but don’t understand how far away something is; and therefore how much time there is to run before impact, said Steyerl. Radar uses radio-frequency electromagnetic waves to measure distance but does not have the resolution of an optical camera. Lidar uses laser beams to measure the distance and recognize objects. Scanning lidar systems can be used to detect objects on or near the roadway and fill the blind spots known to exist when using radar and cameras, he continued.

Next: Liquid crystal

“We use the liquid crystal to control the direction of the laser beam. It scales well with size, power and cost. We haven’t demo-ed it publicly but we have done an in-car demo in private,” said Steyerl. “It may take another couple of years to productize,” he added.

While there are a lot of startups working with tier-ones on particular aspects of vehicle autonomy Steyerl reckons ADI has the advantage that it can integrate a lot of the signal chain behind all three types of sensor; RF, laser and optical. “It is not our aim to be a tier-one but to understand and influence the system concepts,” he said.

Does that include digital data fusion? Not really says Steyerl. If you just look at the raw data coming off the three sensor types it would quickly be gigabytes of data and it’s not feasible to process that in the car or move it to the cloud, Steyerl said. “Therefore pre-processing at the sensor becomes vital: to prune the data in 3D and 4D. We build the bridge from analog to digital and back. So pre-processing is a good place for ADI to play,” he added.

ADI’s radar capability also came from an acquisition: Symeo GmbH (Munich, Germany) (see “V3DIM” research project to lead the 3D vertical design of 40 to 100 GHz ICs). The high-precision radar technology was originally developed within Siemens and subsequently spun-out as an independent entity in 2005 by the Siemens Technology Accelerator GmbH. It enables real-time position detection and distance measurement and is designed to work in tough environments.

“It was a radar sensor for the industrial market; for robots, cranes, construction, and monitoring truck movements,” but again it allowed ADI to gain system-level knowledge.

Symeo operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary but is able to leverage ADI’s global sales capabilities while receiving additional resources for R&D while being encouraged to traverse that R&D into the automotive area of interest, Steyerl said. “It’s a business model we have found worth repeating,” he said.

Related links and articles:

News articles:

 Analog Devices buys laser-beam-steering tech in LIDAR push

“V3DIM” research project to lead the 3D vertical design of 40 to 100 GHz ICs

ADI swallows Hittite, gains acquisition skill

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