MEMS LIDAR chip for less than $250 will make affordable self driving cars

Infineon is using a micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) to make a low cost LIDAR chip. This particular MEMS was invented by Innoluce, a Dutch firm which Infineon bought in October 2016. The device consists of an oval-shaped mirror, just 3mm by 4mm, contained on a bed of silicon. The mirror is connected to actuators that use electrical resonance to make it oscillate from side to side, changing the direction of the laser beam it is reflecting. This, says Infineon, permits the full power of the laser to be used for scanning instead of its light being dispersed, as it would be in a flash-based system.

The MEMS lidar can scan up to 5,000 data points from a scene every second, and has a range of 250 meters, says Ralf Bornefeld, Infineon’s head of automotive sense and control. Despite its moving mirror, he thinks it should prove as robust and reliable as any other silicon chip. In mass production and attached to, say, a windscreen, the MEMS lidar is expected to cost a carmaker less than $250. These tiny lidars would have other applications, too—in robots and drones, for example.

Many engineers, Mr Bornefeld included, reckon autonomous cars of the future will use multiple miniature lidars, radars, ultrasonic sensors and digital cameras. Each system of sensors has advantages and disadvantages, he says. Combining them will provide a “safety cocoon” around an autonomous vehicle.