Most LIDAR (Light detection and ranging) systems cost $70k and sit conspicuously on the roof of autonomous vehicles. MIT’s Photonic Microsystems Group is hoping to miniaturize this to a microchip that costs $10 to produce. If this works LIDAR could become universal sensors in everything.
These on-chip devices promise to be orders of magnitude smaller, lighter, and cheaper than lidar systems available on the market today. They also have the potential to be much more robust because of the lack of moving parts. The non-mechanical beam steering in this device is 1,000 times faster than what is currently achieved in mechanical lidar systems, and potentially allows for an even faster image scan rate. This can be useful for accurately tracking small high-speed objects that are only in the lidar’s field of view for a short amount of time, which could be important for obstacle avoidance for high-speed UAVs.