Lumotive joins Himax Technologies to target autonomous vehicles with liquid crystal on silicon offering for high-performance LiDAR systems

Lumotive, a Bill Gates-funded startup developing LiDAR systems for autonomous vehicles, and Himax Display, Inc., a subsidiary of Himax Technologies, announced Tuesday a jointly-developed solution to enable disruptive beam steering technology in LiDAR systems that marries Himax’s proven Liquid-Crystal-On-Silicon (LCOS) technology with Lumotive’s patented Liquid Crystal Metasurfaces (LCMs) to improve the performance, reliability and cost of LiDAR systems. 

In the automotive industry, Lumotive’s LiDAR solution will enable both advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and fully autonomous vehicles such as “robo-taxis” and self-driving trucks.

Lumotive is a Seattle-based startup developing solid-state lidar for the automotive industry based on a revolutionary beam-steering technology. The beam-steering technology leverages semiconductor chips designed using metamaterials principles and enables lidar systems to deliver a combination of high performance and low cost. It also believes that its approach to lidar will revolutionize perception systems in the emerging self-driving car industry.

LiDAR, a key 3D-sensing technology for autonomous driving systems, requires advanced beam steering to deliver high performance and commercial viability. Traditionally, LiDAR relied on bulky spinning assemblies, while newer breeds of LiDAR sensors utilize MEMS mirrors or optical phased arrays. However, both of these approaches lack performance due to the small optical aperture of MEMS mirrors and the low efficiency of phased arrays. 

Beam steering is a critical and enabling part of the lidar system. Traditional lidar systems are based on mechanical scanning, which creates issues with reliability, cost, form factor, but limits the performance of existing systems. Lumotive has developed its beam steering technology called a liquid crystal metasurface, which enables a truly solid-state lidar system with enhanced resolution, range and frame rate.   

In a first for LiDAR, Lumotive leverages Himax’s unique, tailor-made LCOS process to convert semiconductor chips into dynamic displays that steer laser pulses based on the light-bending principles of metamaterials.

LiDAR systems determine range by emitting laser light pulses and measuring the round-trip flight time for those pulses to travel to and reflect back from objects.  A LiDAR system creates a 3D perceptual map, or “point cloud” of its surroundings by scanning, or “beam steering”, laser pulses across its two-dimensional field-of-view, with the third dimension derived from the distance measured to an object at a given horizontal and vertical position.

LiDAR has proven critical for autonomous vehicles because the technology can accurately locate objects to within a few centimeters at ranges of hundreds of meters.  LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, generally exhibits shorter range but superior measurement resolution compared to its older cousin, radar, which stands for Radio Detection and Ranging. 

Research firm Yole Développement estimates that the ADAS and autonomous vehicle LiDAR markets will grow in the coming years, increasing from US$721 million in 2018 to $6.3 billion in 2024, with a CAGR of nearly 45 percent during that period.

Lumotive’s LCM chips contain no moving parts and are fabricated using mature semiconductor manufacturing processes and Himax’s tailor-made LCOS technology to enable commercially viable LiDAR systems with low cost, high reliability and small size. In addition to cost and performance advantages, Lumotive LCMs can be integrated into small form-factor systems, appealing for other applications in industrial and consumer sectors. Lumotive’s LiDAR systems offer performance advantages, including a combination of large optical aperture (25 x 25 mm) which delivers long range; 120-degree field-of-view with high angular resolution; and fast and random-access beam steering.

“Himax’s industry-leading LCOS technology and in-depth LC know-how perfectly complement our LCM technology,” said Lumotive co-founder and CEO, Dr. William Colleran. “Our combined approach is an innovative technological advance that lowers cost, improves performance and ultimately speeds time-to-market for reliable LiDAR systems that make self-driving cars viable and safe.”

“We are very excited to be working with Lumotive to deliver a true breakthrough in the development of LiDAR systems for the autonomous vehicle market,” said Jordan Wu, president and chief executive officer of Himax Technologies. “While the approach is unique, our industry-leading LCOS technology and tailor-made service are market-proven and, when combined with Lumotive’s patented LCM technology, represent a significant advance in an increasingly important industry.”

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