Technology directly impacts how we interact with and understand the world. For example, with advancements in Lidar technologies over the last six decades, we can now use measuring data to help uncover lost cities, map our forests, and measure the atmosphere. And what’s driving these advancements—at the very heart of Lidar—are precision optoelectronics.
Defining Lidar Technologies
Lidar’s remote sensing and measuring have grown exponentially since their introduction in the 1960s on airplane laser scanners (see timeline below). The remote sensing method is now part of our everyday life with the most common (or widely used) application being GPS systems. Working with Lidar clients for three decades, we know its uses and applications are seemingly limitless.
Some of the more common applications that we see from our clients include the following:
Atmospheric measurement: Depending on the technique used, Lidar can help measure wind speeds, water vapors and aerosols, and ozone and water vapor concentrations. This data can then be used to understand weather patterns and tackle environmental issues.
Geological study: Lidar’s use for mapping landscapes can detect slope, aspect, and elevation changes. This technology can have wide-ranging implications for data collection in remote areas.
3D forest visualization: The Pacific Northwest is rich in forests, which need careful observation for optimal health and wildfire prevention. Lidar’s technology can visualize a forest’s vegetation structure with realistic 3D representations.
City planning: Similar to a remote landscape, Lidar is used for city planning. This includes applications for mass transit systems and other complicated infrastructure.
Autonomous vehicles: Perhaps the most buzzworthy Lidar application is its role in autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars use 360-degree sensors to gain a full perspective of surroundings for optimal safety.
Timeline of Advancements
A quick look at Lidar’s history shows its advancements over the years.
1930 — E.H. Synge experiments with the idea of light to measure distance, the basis of Lidar technologies.
1960s — Theodore Maiman and the Hughes Research Laboratory demonstrate the first laser and market Lidar commercially. Scientists adopt it to study the surface of the moon.
1970s — NASA uses Lidar sensors for space exploration, a practice still in place. Besides this, the technology is primarily used for topographic mapping.
1980s — Lidar is used for GPS systems and becomes more well-known and advanced. At the end of this decade, Photo Solutions opened its doors and began manufacturing components for Lidar and other industries.
1990s — Commercial Lidar uses gain traction, like those for topographic mapping, urban development, and aircraft mapping.
2000s — Lidar applications advance into data collection for flood prevention, planning, and archaeological development. Notably, during this time, the FAA uses Lidar technology for drones.
Today — Despite the growth in Lidar technologies over the years, one thing remains consistent: precision optoelectronics is critical to Lidar’s functionality and accuracy.
Optoelectronics and Lidar Technologies
If your industry uses Lidar technology, you know that the scanning system owes its precision to optoelectronic components. The basic functionality of an optical encoder is to count a light source’s scale lines using a photodetector. When applied to Lidar technologies, the encoders can gauge position and rotation when the sensor emits light.
To break it down further, a Lidar sensor can have different scan patterns based on its scanning system. Depending on your use case, these range from oscillating and rotating polygon to rotating mirror and dispersive prisms. While each pattern has different functionality, encoder accuracy is imperative.
Furthermore, optoelectronics assist Lidar in modifying a scanning system’s speed to detect and avoid obstructions accurately.
Photo Solutions For Industry Solutions
At Photo Solutions, we have ample experience with Lidar clients who apply our optoelectronics in all areas of the field. To best serve these industries, we begin each conversation with an in-depth discussion about your industry needs so we can manufacture precisely what you need.
As mentioned, encoder discs are the main optical components that drive Lidar technologies forward. Most specifically, rotary encoders. These small components are responsible for the high-precision conversion of angular precision to digital output in a Lidar sensor. Of course, depending on your need, incremental rotary encoders are often more precise than enclosed rotary encoders. Still, our team can work with you to determine which optoelectronic option is best.
We can fabricate these discs in diameters from 5mm to 600mm with custom tooling, regardless of the exact encoder type needed. In addition to rotary encoders, we also provide glass, transmissive mode glass, reflective mode glass, Mylar, reflective Mylar, and reflective aluminum discs.
Other Robotics Applications
In addition to Lidar and its related applications, Photo Solutions’ optoelectronics are also applied to other facets of the robotics industry and beyond. We’re lucky enough to work with some of the most advanced robotics companies in the industry, from autonomous robots stocking grocery shelves to robotic surgical instruments.
Photonics and optics play a massive role in the efficacy of robotic advancements by increasing their awareness of the world around them. By making these applications more agile and efficient, our small components can significantly impact how we view, study, and operate in the world.
Robotic Surgical Instruments
Surgical instruments are swiftly becoming ‘smarter’ as technology advances in leaps and bounds. Encoders help to determine the precise position of these robotic instruments to track movements with dexterity for complex operations.
Surgical instruments like the da Vinci aid surgeons with a console, monitor, and joysticks. With encoder feedback, they can carry out operations more steadily and precisely than done manually.
Manufacturing robots are responsible for repetitive and laborious tasks in the manufacturing process. With the high levels of accuracy achieved with optical components, they can increase efficiency and productivity.
Automotive robots, like those used at GM, can perform versatile tasks like material handling, pick & place from inspection to assembly, and packaging.
Driving Lidar Technologies Forward
Whatever your end-goal application, Photo Solutions offers precision photonic engineering. Regarding Lidar technologies, optoelectronics increase accuracy, detect obstructions, and provide positional data that can drive industries forward. For Lidar solutions and beyond, our expert team can help. Contact us for a quote!