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Optical Technology: Autonomous Vehicles in the Fast Lane

5 December 2019 at 00:00

Optical Technology: Autonomous Vehicles in the Fast Lane 

Automobile manufacturers of self-driving cars are racing to the finish line to make the preponderance of vehicles on our roads autonomous, and it's not only cars that are seeking driverless technologies. Other means of self-driving public transport are also being investigated; such as buses, trains, trams and even experimental aircraft projects1. In fact, in April this year, the EU Commissioner for Transport revealed a forecast for complete self-driving car capabilities to be reached by the year 20302

As we strive to make our roads more efficient with schemes such as Smart Motorways; we're seeking new ways to produce seamless road capacity across our towns and cities. And, highly automated technologies (HAVs), otherwise known as autonomous vehicles, are playing a pivotal role in road performance. Recognised predominantly for their safety benefits – maintaining a safe and consistent distance between cars and reducing congestion and gridlock on our roads – HAVs are set to change the way we use our streets.  

LiDAR: Driving the Driverless Vehicle Movement 

The linchpin behind today's driverless cars is Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR); a technology commonly used for sensor-based geospatial systems. It is this innovation that has resulted in further exponential growth between the optical community and the automobile world over recent years. Many may recall observing this device on Google's self-driving 'Waymo' car – sited on its roof in a dome-shaped form. However, other manufacturers are taking to installing bonnet-mounted LiDAR systems for a somewhat discreet aesthetic to meet the sleek-looking sought-after vehicle styles of the 21st century. 

At Knight Optical, we've been working alongside spearheads within the autonomous vehicle sector for several years as a long-standing supplier of optical components for LiDAR systems. There is an array of optics required to enable the high-performance operation of LiDAR systems – as well as a wide-ranging variety of components that protect integral elements of the system. Of course, optical specification is wholly dependent on the vehicle in question and each manufacturer's unique blueprint. 

For example, our Front Coated Mirrors are employed within LiDAR systems to steer laser beams for optimum performance. In contrast, our Optical Filters are specified to eradicate stray light that may impede the visualisation of the system. Furthermore, our Cover Windows – such as the Dome Windows mounted on Google's Waymo self-driving care – are essential in defending internal elements within LiDAR systems. 

Of course, alongside project-specific component variation, each manufacturer works to individual wavelengths; according to their device's requirements. Cutting-edge LiDAR systems commonly operate in the 905nm and 1550nm wavebands for applications active in the near-infrared (NIR) spectrum to perceive their surroundings. However, away from the world of motoring, organisations are using lower wavelengths to measure alternative atmospheric properties. One such example is the UV Raman LiDAR system, which transmits at a wavelength of 355nm to measure clouds, water vapour and aerosols3

At Knight Optical, we understand that every project is different; seeking diverse results and operational values. So, whether your application operates within the visible, ultraviolet (UV), near-infrared (NIR), infrared (IR), far-infrared (FIR), mid-wave infrared (MWIR) or long-wave infrared (LWIR) waveband, our portfolio comprises a wide-ranging offering of optics suitable for a variety of spectrums. 

Vigilant Vehicles Require Vigilant Suppliers

It's incredibly apparent that optical components are vital for maximum LiDAR operability. Therefore, it's not only imperative to specify the correct optics for these systems, but it's also essential to ensure these components are on-spec and manufactured to a high standard. Inadequate specifications could result in dire consequences for such a potentially precarious application, putting road users and pedestrians at risk, and branding the future of self-driving vehicles unsafe. 

With LiDAR operating as the 'eyes' of driverless vehicles, it's; therefore, a priority to work alongside first-class proficient optical component suppliers, such as Knight Optical, to enable high-performing results and push the boundaries of autonomous driving. Our well-established relationships with leaders in this field not only stems from our attention to detail and premium-quality components but is also thanks to our knowledge of the industry and optical understanding of LiDAR systems. 

Knight Optical: going the extra mile 

Suffice to say, LiDAR and optics are intimately linked, and as the technology transudes within the automobile industry; we're expected to see an increased omnipresence of the technology on our streets, driving our cars. 

As demand for LiDAR optics prospers, Knight Optical is poised for the market demand. As a result, our ever-expanding portfolio of optical components is continually evolving to keep up to date with manufacturer requirements. Our range of LiDAR optics include components such as Cover Windows, Front Surface Mirrors, Lenses, Filters and Wedges; plus, many more. 

Our optics are available from stock – ordered from our website for next-day dispatch (beneficial for those demanding quick turnaround times) – or custom-made for seamless integration with your LiDAR application. Our customised service allows you to specify the size, shape, substrate, wavelength and tolerance most appropriate for your project. 

What's more, our customised optical coatings provide you with enhanced operation and durability; dependent, of course, on your requirements. Our coating range includes Anti-Reflective (AR), Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC), Oleophobic and Hydrophobic options; plus, many more. 

As with all projects, we recognise the importance of driving forward the future of technology, and to work alongside such ground-breaking prolific pioneers within the LiDAR sector is a real privilege. 

Contact Knight Optical today to discover more about our vast stock and custom-made LiDAR component offering and discuss your optical requirements with a knowledgeable member of our team of Technical Sales Advisors.

Foot Notes

1 https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/23/18194332/boeing-electric-autonomous-aircraft-test-flight-vtol-aurora-flight-sciences

2https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkoetsier/2019/04/06/self-driving-cars-in-10-years-eu-expects-fully-automated-cars-by-2030/

3https://www.chilbolton.stfc.ac.uk/Pages/UV-Raman-Lidar.aspx

 

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