Why Isn’t LiDAR in Every Autonomous Navigation System?

The mechanical engineer Karl Friedrich Benz invented the first motor car powered by a gasoline combustion engine in 1884/1885. Benz, Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach and other pioneering inventors of early motor cars would have been hard-pressed to imagine modern cars, many of which offer advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that improve automotive safety, independent of the operator.

Karl Friedrich Benz’s Benz Patent-Motorwagen, circa 1885/86

The possibility of fully self-driving cars, self-flying cargo planes, and package-delivery drones would have seemed even more far-fetched to these 19th-century engineers. But as 21st-century engineers, we recognize that ADAS, robotic cars, drones, and industrial robotics—all applications featuring some level of autonomous functionality—are not pie-in-the-sky imaginings. And the key to realizing them commercially is the perfection of LiDAR.

LiDAR—which stands for light detection and ranging—is essential to autonomous navigation. In fact, it does so much more than the more mature vision technologies, cameras and radar, which are also used in autonomous systems. Only LiDAR provides depth and functions seamlessly at all levels of light. It also delivers phenomenal resolution, so it can perceive both moving and stationary objects—another critical advantage over cameras and radar.

Given LiDAR’s technical strengths, why isn’t it ubiquitous?

As a sensor IP company with an executive team that also has years of experience with LiDAR, we’ve given this a lot of thought. And we’d like to share this with you.

Read Omnitron CEO Eric Aguilar’s article in EE Times, Want Better Autonomous Navigation? Start with LiDAR.

Or email us today for more information.

And if you’re interested in the history of the automobile, check out this Library of Congress page.

Innovation in MEMS Starts with Its Topology

The first iPhone rolled out in mid-2007. It had a single MEMS device—a 3-axis accelerometer—and one each of a simple proximity sensor and ambient light sensor. The iPhone 14, on the other hand, has multiple MEMS microphones, a LiDAR sensor for face recognition, a high dynamic-range gyro and high-g accelerometer, a barometric pressure sensor, a haptic touch sensor, a proximity sensor and dual ambient light sensors. While approximately $1B of the $6+B overall MEMS market came from consumer and mobile in 2007, analysts predict that by 2026, $11.27B of the overall $18.2B will come from consumer and mobile.

That’s just consumer and mobile, of course. The first major commercial MEMS design was an Analog Devices accelerometer used in automotive crash-detection air bags in the mid-1990s. And now, MEMS technology is ubiquitous in automotive advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and will soon become the core enabling component in LiDAR sensors.

Still, given the many attributes of MEMS, why hasn’t its growth trajectory mirrored that of the semiconductor industry? MEMS, after all, offers unprecedented sensory intelligence in a small package, making it highly attractive for almost every application.

We’ve asked ourselves why MEMS hasn’t come farther, faster so many times over the years, and we’ve always come to the same conclusion: The slow growth of MEMS has nothing to do with its capabilities and everything to do with its manufacturing challenges. Solving those challenges was a catalyst for launching Omnitron Sensors.

At Omnitron we’ve developed a new topology for MEMS. We started by developing test structures and process steps with our foundry partners. We forged ahead to make significant improvements in capacitance to produce robust, rugged devices. The good news is that we’ve verified our process through fabrication, and are on the path to build hundreds of millions of low-cost, reliable, repeatable MEMS devices at commercial MEMS foundries.

Interested in learning more? On May 23, 2023, our co-founder & CEO, Eric Aguilar, will present Omnitron’s new topology for MEMS at MEMS & Sensors Technical Congress 2023, SEMI’s annual technical event on designing, building, and using sensors. MSTC is a phenomenal event for technical execs and engineers who want to learn about the latest innovations in MEMS technology. Register now.

If you can’t attend MSTC but would like more information on Omnitron, email us today.

Connect with CEO Eric Aguilar at MSTC 2023

And other MEMS & sensors industry technical execs

Omnitron Shares ‘New Topology for MEMS’ in Eric Aguilar’s Interviews with Press and Analysts

Portrait of Eric AguilarAll About Circuits, Planet Analog (EDN), and The Ojo-Yoshida Report (OYR) were among the trade publications and analyst firms that attended private briefings with Co-Founder and CEO Eric Aguilar in anticipation of Omnitron’s recent announcement of a new process for a MEMS scanning mirror. The company’s new topology for MEMS changes the process technology and packaging techniques of MEMS, producing measurable improvements in size, cost, robustness, reliability, manufacturability, and time to market.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and Omnitron’s proof is a validated process for a fast, rugged, low-cost MEMS scanning mirror that solves the most vexing problems of LiDARs used in robotics, autonomous vehicles and drones. With LiDAR subsystems representing a $2.3B market by 2026—according to Yole Group—Omnitron is targeting a healthy market with its first commercial offering. 

Curious about what the press said about Omnitron’s launch? Some snippets of coverage follow:

Jeff Child of All About Circuits spoke with Eric Aguilar about Omnitron’s approach

With all the problems of today’s LiDAR mirror alternatives in mind, Omnitron developed a 3D MEMS process technology that enables a scanning mirror suited to next-gen LiDAR needs. “We’ve developed a 3D MEMS processor and it is, in a sense, a new topology in MEMS,” says Aguilar. “Just like you have a new technology node for semiconductors, this is a fundamental new topology in MEMS.”

Clive “Max” Maxfield of EEJournal put his unique spin on the Omnitron story. In citing Yole Group’s market data on the 2025 sensor, MEMS and LiDAR markets, Max wrote:

The interesting thing about all of this is that this data does not account for the potential disruption that may be caused by Omnitron’s new patent-pending process. First, the availability of lower-cost, higher-resolution LiDAR sensors could significantly expand the overall LiDAR market. Second, Omnitron’s processes are not only focused (no pun intended) on mirrors, but are instead applicable to MEMS in general, which could dramatically increase the MEMS market as a whole.

What motivated Eric Aguilar to target LiDARs? Carolyn Mathas of Planet Analog (EDN) discovered that Eric’s experience as an end-customer inspired him to solve LiDAR’s scanning problems as an engineer.Carolyn wrote:

When Omnitron Co-Founder and CEO Eric Aguilar worked at companies purchasing LiDAR systems, and got involved in autonomous navigation, he found that the root cause of problems in these systems is that he would have to replace mirrors and motors, causing a nightmare from an operational standpoint. He said, “If I owned a car and would have to replace LiDAR or anything every three months, I’d find that untenable.”

As a journalist who always digs beneath the surface, Junko Yoshida of OYRasked Eric to explain Omnitron’s uniquely differentiated technology, Eric identified three fundamental changes in MEMS process. Junko wrote, “Those include trenches five times deeper, enabling step scanning, wide-angle and linear articulation; a ten-fold capacitance boost, providing more force, less inertia and higher speed; and an offset structure that simplifies system-level alignment while allowing wider mechanical articulation.” 

Coming Soon: Coverage with an Automotive Slant

Eric spoke with Megan Lampinen of Automotive World about how Omnitron is using its expertise in MEMS to create a more affordable and reliable LiDAR system for ADAS. In addition, he briefed Sally Cole Johnson of Laser Focus World about the long-awaited potential of MEMS to address the challenges and limitations of scanning mirrors. Stay tuned for these articles in in early 2023.

Contact us at info@omnitronsensors.com to learn more about how our new topology for MEMS can improve the reliability, robustness, time-to-market, and cost of your device.

Omnitron $1.6M Bridge Seed Round With Strategic Investor

Omnitron Sensors CEO competed and won Latino Startup of the Year along with a $1.6M investment from L’Attitude.

Omnitron sees this as a strategic win and investment as L’Attitide brings a deep network in the telecom, government, and sensors space which will be vital to their success as they grow.

Further details are available here.