Silicon photonics is key to ubiquitous 3D sensing with lidar on chip - Embedded.com

Silicon photonics is key to ubiquitous 3D sensing with lidar on chip

Voyant Photonics has developed a complete lidar system in a field-deployable package, using patented techniques for on-chip digital beam steering, optical signal processing, and laser control.

A spinout from the Columbia University of New York has is hoping that its expertise in silicon photonics and early work in delivering a lidar on chip will pave the way for large-scale adoption of 3D sensing in the same way that CMOS image sensors enabled the accelerated growth of digital photography.

Voyant Photonics, who just announced a series A funding round of $15.4 million, said it has demonstrated a complete lidar system in a field-deployable package, using its patented techniques for on-chip digital beam steering, optical signal processing, and laser control. The company said its our mission is to make lidar a ubiquitous technology, enabling machine perception for every application.

Lidar is a key technology to enable 3D vision across many industries including transportation, robotics, industrial automation, and consumer electronics. Voyant said its lidar system, containing thousands of optical components fabricated on a single semiconductor chip, enables its customers to integrate an effective and exponentially more scalable lidar system than possible to date. It has developer kits are available now for select customers.

Voyant Photonics blockdiagram lidar system
Block diagram of system using Voyant’s chip. A lens, galvo-driven mirror, and electronics complete the lidar system, offering ~100 m ranges on 10% reflective targets. (Source: Voyant Photonics)

Lidar systems are typically fabricated using discrete mechanical and optical components, resulting in large and expensive solutions, according to Voyant Photonics. The company states that its solution radically reduces the size and manufacturing complexity of lidar. By leveraging commercially available and scalable semiconductor fabrication processes to combine thousands of optical and electrical components onto a single chip, Voyant said this enables mass production of lidar systems similar to other computer chips.

Voyant Photonics sparrow lidar chip
Voyant Photonics’ Sparrow lidar on chip combines a multi-channel FMCW optical processor with a 2D digital beam steering. Its 2D beam steering enables a wide range of region-of-interest scanning options within its field-of-view. Lidar systems built on these chips offer 5D point clouds at intermediate ranges with no motors or MEMS required for beam steering. (Source: Voyant Photonics)

Co-founders Chris Phare and Steven Miller had been working on lidar chips for years at Columbia University’s Lipson Nanophotonics Group when they decided to commercialize their technology and launched Voyant Photonics. Their insight was to apply the silicon photonics technology used for optical data communications, the same technology that has made high-performance data center fiber optics affordable. “When you fabricate a lidar system on a chip, the fabrication cost stays the same regardless of how many components you use,” said Phare. “We will soon be selling lidar systems for a few hundred dollars and longer-term will sell them for less than a hundred dollars at scale.”

“When we started on our mission to make lidar a ubiquitous technology for machine perception, a lot of people said silicon photonics was not ready to leave the lab,” said Miller. “Our successful first milestones prove that we can build a complete lidar solution that meets industrial needs, using silicon photonics, and deploy it anywhere.”

“Now that we can make lidar systems on semiconductor chips, we can make them better and less expensive with every development cycle, similar to Moore’s Law for computer chips,” added Phare. “While the excellent performance of our first lidar chips surprised even us, this is just the beginning. Just like with computer chips and camera sensors, every design iteration will get better.”

Recently appointed CEO Peter Stern, a serial entrepreneur who has a background in creating military-grade lidar, commented, “Our team has accomplished so much, and now we are delivering the first LiDAR systems of their type powered by an integrated photonic chip. Our diverse customers in robotics, AGVs [automated guided vehicles], mobility, industrial automation, and security all have one thing in common – they are building solutions that need to understand the world around them. That is what our lidar systems provide.”


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