LiDAR—the laser-based radar known as Lidar, LIDAR, and sometimes LADAR—made early headlines because it was a key enabling technology in developing self-driving cars. LiDAR can identify upcoming objects and determine speed without interference from glare, weather conditions, or harsh environments.
But LiDAR has more diverse uses, as design engineers can attest. It has terrestrial, airborne, and mobile applications.
LiDAR uses ultraviolet, visible, or near-infrared light to image objects based on differences in laser return times and varying laser wavelengths. This is ideal in creating high-resolution maps, with applications in surveying, geodesy, geomatics, archaeology, geography, geology, geomorphology, seismology, forestry, atmospheric physics, laser guidance, airborne laser swath mapping, and laser altimetry. LiDAR's spatial mapping capability creates accurate contoured digital 3-D representations of areas on the earth's surface and ocean bottom. On a smaller scale, some new smartphones and tablets use a LiDAR scanner to measure distances, which comes in handy when shooting photos at night or shopping.
In this week's New Tech Tuesdays, we'll check out LiDAR products from Analog Devices, Intel, and Seeed Studio, which all have diverse applications.
Let's start with the Analog Devices Inc. LiDAR Prototyping Platform, a broad-market prototyping platform. Designers can use the AD-FMCLIDAR1-EBZ working-out-of-the-box platform on FPGA development boards to develop software and algorithms for a broad range of depth-sensing applications. The modular platform is built on pre-engineered systems intended to interoperate, reduce risk, and improve predictability and reliability compared to a one-off design built from scratch. The platform's hardware components consist of a laser transmitter board and an analog front end (AFE) board that plugs into a high-speed data acquisition (DAQ) board, including an FMC-compliant connector interface that enables designers to connect their preferred FPGA board. The platform helps reduce system development time, which shortens the path to a working LiDAR system prototype in applications such as environmental, aerospace/defense, security, and Industry 4.0.
The Intel® RealSense™ LiDAR Camera L515 can generate 23 million accurate depth points per second, making it design-friendly for lots of applications. The high-resolution hockey-puck-looking camera can provide precise volumetric measurements of objects, which comes in handy with inventory management systems such as robotic arms for bin picking, logistics, and 3D scanning. The palm-sized L515 uses a proprietary microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) mirror scanning technology, enabling better laser power efficiency than other time-of-flight technologies. It has numerous capabilities in a small form (61mm x 26mm and 100g) while being power efficient (3.5W). The L515 can capture rapidly moving objects with minimal motion blur with its internal vision processor, motion-blur artifact reduction, and short photon-to-depth latency.
The Seeed Studio TF03-100 LiDAR Long Range Distance Sensor is an industrial-grade device with a multitude of uses. The TF03-100 stands out as an all-weather device that can operate in harsh environments and survey rough terrain or remote areas, making it a good fit for an uncrewed aerial vehicle to gather data for 3D point cloud terrain models. TF03-100 is built into an aluminum alloy enclosure and features IP67 water and dust resistance. Its multiple built-in operating modes can change parameters and configurations to meet different applications. The TF03-100, which has an adjustable frame rate of up to 1KHz, also works with vehicle safety-warning systems to alert drivers of hazards up to 100m, which is ideal for today's sensor-laden smart vehicles.
We run across LiDAR all the time in our cars and smartphones. But it enhances many functions we don't always see, such as camera triggers, luggage handling, parcel delivery, robotics, land surveying, power-line inspection, forestry and farming, and more. For design engineers, it has numerous and diverse applications.
Tommy Cummings is a freelance writer/editor based in Texas. He's had a journalism career that has spanned more than 40 years. He contributes to Texas Monthly and Oklahoma Today magazines. He's also worked at The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. Tommy covered the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley and has been a digital content and audience engagement editor at news outlets. Tommy worked at Mouser Electronics from 2018 to 2021 as a technical content and product content specialist.
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