LiDAR scales up thanks to silicon photonics

An article written by Katherine Skipper for Electro Optics, in collaboration with  Pierrick Boulay, Senior Technology & Market Analyst, Lighting and Display at Yole Développement (Yole) –  In March 2021, Honda unveiled a partially autonomous car that it says can take over from a human driver in traffic jams. This special edition of the Honda Legend uses lidar laser illumination, alongside radar and cameras, to navigate at low speeds. Lidar measures the distance to nearby objects by calculating the round-trip time of a laser beam, building up a 3D map of the surroundings. Though automotive lidar is only a small fraction of the total lidar market at the moment, analysts from Yole Développement, which has been performing market research on lidar for more than five years, predict that by 2026 it could be worth $2.3bn, comprising more than half the market share.

But most of us won’t be taking our eyes off the road anytime soon. The Honda Legend has a retail price of $102,000 and only 100 have been manufactured. The challenge for lidar companies, whether they’re making systems for cars, trucks or infrastructure for smart cities, is not just to make a machine that can compete with the human eye, but to make something that can be produced at scale, and at a cost that is comparable to the rest of the product. (…)

Pierrick Boulay is an analyst from Yole, and while he foresees a possibility that FMCW could eventually replace time-of-flight, he doesn’t see automotive FMCW hitting the shelves before 2025. Boulay said that the long development cycle puts FMCW companies off automotive lidar in the short term. SiLC has partnerships with OEMs and tier one suppliers, alongside industrial applications, but Voyant is focusing on industry. Stern sees this as an opportunity, saying ‘right now, our target markets are things like industrial safety, industrial robotics, logistics – things where they don’t use lidar now because of the cost.’

The first time most of us take our hands off the wheel, it probably won’t be an FMCW lidar taking charge, but silicon photonics is here to stay, and it might lead to lidar popping up in unexpected places.