A Big, Fast, Robust Step-Scanning MEMS Mirror Delivers Better LiDAR

Autonomous commercial vehicle

Omnitron Co-founder & CEO Eric Aguilar recently spoke with Tech Briefs about the role of MEMS step-scanning mirrors in solving performance, price and reliability issues with LiDAR used in autonomous systems. Eric shared some key perspectives on the topic. Scroll to the end of the post for a link to his Q&A with Tech Briefs Editor Ed Brown.

LiDAR’s potential to transform autonomous systems is massive — yet technical shortcomings in its optical subsystems have delayed its widespread acceptance. We’ll delve into the pivotal role of how a step-scanning MEMS mirror is enhancing LiDAR’s capabilities while bringing LiDAR in line with BOM costs for robotic systems.

Where is LiDAR Today?

The tech sector invested an astonishing $2.6B in LiDAR in 2021 and billions in prior years, says the research firm Yole Intelligence, part of Yole Group. But investment plunged to $184M as of July 2022. And by 2032, just 10% of all cars are expected to include LiDAR. Why such a small percentage?

It may seem incongruous, but LiDAR — which stands for light detection and ranging — is still growing at a healthy pace. For the automotive market alone, Yole predicts it will reach $4.5B in 2028, encompassing both passenger cars (PCs) and light commercial vehicles (LCVs). This revenue figure represents a whopping 55% CAGR from 2023, according to Yole.(1)

IDTechEx is even more optimistic in their predictions. A recent IDTechEx report projects that the LiDAR market for automotive will reach $9.5B by 2034.(2)

What’s amazing is that LiDAR is growing despite all of its warts. If it were properly realized, LiDAR would be everywhere by now, providing the real-time 3D vision that’s essential to wide-ranging applications, from automotive advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), robotic cars, and drones to industrial robotics and augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) applications. Except for the most expensive applications, including satellites, aircraft/spacecraft, and topographical exploration, LiDAR has come up short. But that’s about to change. 

Comparing LiDAR, Cameras, and Radar

Although it’s been around for decades, LiDAR’s implementation lags far behind more mature vision technologies such as cameras and radar. Yet LiDAR is worth our attention. Cameras lack depth, which is essential for robots to understand their environment. And they can’t see at night, which slashes their efficacy. Radar also has its limits. First and foremost, it lacks resolution, which means that it can’t differentiate a car from a person. Yet, radar is especially valuable in bad weather because it will continue to function, while LIDAR can be affected adversely by rain or snow.

Complementing both cameras and radar, LiDAR offers its own unique attributes. It provides depth information and functions seamlessly at all levels of light because it uses an active light source. It also delivers excellent resolution, so it can perceive both moving and stationary objects. Together, cameras, radar, and LiDAR provide the core technologies for autonomous-navigation systems, whether those systems are in a car, a delivery drone, or a robot on the factory floor.

Historically speaking, LiDAR’s main pain point has been its cost. That’s because it’s a complex technology that requires great precision in terms of alignment and calibration. In addition, the automotive environment is notoriously tough in terms of vibration and temperature fluctuations that can cause continuous expansion and contraction of the optical system.

Meeting the Requirements with a Step-Scanning MEMS Mirror

Automotive manufacturers need small, sleek, affordable step-scanning mirrors that fit in a car’s roofline—and that are robust enough to handle high vibration as well as temperature variation. A new generation of MEMS mirrors that are about the size of a dime are large enough, at 15mm in diameter, to move the tens of degrees needed for a wide field of view. This MEMS mirror also performs step-scanning, so it meets the performance demands of the automotive environment. Plus, this new device has a very powerful silicon motor behind it, so it’s fast enough for long-range LiDAR.

Our approach to achieving precise and reliable step scanning in our MEMS mirror is threefold, including: a high-performance motor, an in-situ feedback mechanism, and a robust control system. By integrating these three key elements, we provide a step-scanning MEMS mirror solution that offers high precision, speed, and reliability, making it suitable for a wide range of applications where accuracy and rapid response are paramount.

Achieving a step-scanning MEMS mirror that meets all the requirements of LiDAR has been no mean feat. We know because we’re doing it. To make it work, we’ve developed a new topology for MEMS, which features the rearrangement of silicon process steps and a new packaging method. The result of our foundational work is a MEMS step-scanning mirror that’s robust and reliable, and low-cost in mass-produced volumes. It is, in short, a MEMS mirror that will solve the most serious problems with LiDAR, driving autonomous navigation systems to a whole new level.

We are currently in the process of commercializing our MEMS mirror through fabrication with our foundry partner. We’re also engaging with automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers who are excited at the prospect of a large, robust, low-cost step-scanning MEMS mirror that will meet the most rigorous demands of LIDAR in autonomous navigation.

Read the complete Q&A with Tech Briefs article here: Better LIDAR in Autonomous Systems Starts with MEMS. (Free registration may be required.)

References:

1: LiDAR for Automotive 2023, Yole Intelligence, Pierrick Boulay, Jérôme Mouly, Martin Vallo

2. Lidar 2024-2034: Technologies, Players, Markets & Forecasts, IDTechEx, Dr. Xiaoxi He

Omnitron’s Dynamic 3D Structures Break Through Limits of Semiconductor Packaging

For too long, semiconductor innovation has been trapped by the limits of packaging techniques.

What if you could leapfrog from the wide-ranging limitations of static silicon packaging to achieve unprecedented flexibility and compact size in your semiconductor and MEMS devices?

What if you could create more flexible designs that can be precisely adjusted to function optimally in variable conditions?

Omnitron Sensors has developed and fabricated a new way to create dynamically controlled 3D structures, such as ratcheting systems and offsets, paving the way for major performance advancements in the next generation of microelectronics.

In practical terms, what might this mean for your application?

  • Telecom—Design arrays of mirrors that can be precisely adjusted for improved signal direction and strength.
  • Optical Systems—Realize the benefits of offsets that simplify the alignment process in optical systems, reducing complexity and enhancing performance.
  • Biomedical Devices—Tailor micropumps and microvalves for specific medical applications to gain precise control in drug delivery systems and diagnostic tools.
  • Augmented Reality—Create enhanced projectors that offer better control over light projection, improving the user experience in AR applications.

Origami for Microelectronics

Using principles similar to origami, where paper is transformed into beautiful 3D artwork, Omnitron has transformed simple silicon frames into complex, adaptable 3D structures. Our approach enhances device performance and operational flexibility, breaking through old packaging paradigms in semiconductor and MEMS manufacturing.

Join Us

We invite industry partners and innovators to join us in exploring the full potential of these dynamic 3D structures. Together, we can leverage these advanced technologies to help you achieve everything you’ve envisioned for your application.

Contact Us to Discuss Your Next Project.

Sensors Are the Key to Unlocking Exponential Innovation

The Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionizing our interactions with our surroundings – and the high-level functioning of businesses around the world. At the root of this technological transformation are tiny microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that sense environmental stimuli and integrate them with AI learnings, driving exponential innovation that enables companies to continuously optimize operations.

In a TED-style talk at the 2023 Dubai Business Forum, Omnitron Sensors Co-founder & CEO Eric Aguilar explained the critical role of sensor systems in robotics and autonomous platforms — which are systems that analyze data from connected devices to assist global industries in making informed decisions.

In describing his unique set of skills and experiences, which combine expertise in sensor development with the design of autonomous systems, Eric gave Dubai Forum attendees an overview of his professional journey to date: Having started his career building sensors for drones at US Navy Research Labs, Eric moved to a startup that licensed Navy IP to build a revolutionary motion sensor. This led to an acquisition by Google, where Eric transitioned to developing autonomous systems. As the avionics lead at X, Eric actualized development for Google project Wing, an autonomous drone delivery service. Then it was off to Telsa where he led firmware and sensor integration efforts for the Model 3.

Having witnessed firsthand the potential of LiDAR in the vision systems used in cars and other autonomous robotics, Eric also experienced the frustration of being handed a technology that was saddled with limitations. Undaunted, he and his founding team launched Omnitron Sensors in 2019 to fix LiDAR — which also required a kickstarting innovation in the MEMS industry.

As one of 32 speakers across 24 sessions addressing and interacting with 2,000+ delegates from 49 countries, Eric was delighted to present at the Dubai Business Forum, a curated audience featuring expert panels, visionary speakers and deal opportunities designed to shape the future of international business. For more information, visit https://dubaibusinessforum.com/

Omnitron Activates at L’ATTITUDE 2023

Eric Aguilar at Omnitron Sensors' activation at L'ATTTITUDE 2023
Eric Aguilar experiences LiDAR in a VR environment

The vibe at L’ATTITUDE 2023—the largest business event in the country exploring the ways in which the U.S. Latinx cohort is driving the growth of The New Mainstream Economy—was nothing short of electric. More than 8,000 executives, business leaders and entrepreneurs gathered in Miami to interact with the four L’ATTITUDE partners, Sol Trujillo, Gary Acosta, Emilio Estefan, and Oscar Munoz, each of whom has blazed a path in his chosen profession. Attendees also tuned into a world-class line-up of C-suite speakers from firms such as Accenture, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, NBCUniversal News Group, JP Morgan Chase, United Airlines, and too many others to list here.

L’ATTITUDE 2023 was especially memorable for Omnitron Sensors, which was one of two L’ATTITUDE Ventures’ portfolio companies selected for a booth activation during the event. Omnitron Sensors CEO Eric Aguilar and the Omnitron team showcased the company’s LiDAR sensor technology through a VR demo designed to show event attendees how LiDAR augments environments to enhance the accuracy and safety of autonomous robotic systems.

Eric’s story as a Latino entrepreneur who co-founded a chip company also caught the attention of CNBC’s Squawk Box. Catch his interview here.

One day in the not-too-distant future, Omnitron’s LiDAR sensors will present a 3D environment that’s safer and more affordable for autonomous navigation/operation in cars and delivery drones, in VR gear, in industrial robots, and in other complex electronic devices that need superior machine vision.

Curious how Omnitron Sensors is reinventing LiDAR sensors? Contact us today.