Tiny Lasers on Microchips Could Help Self-Driving Cars "See" The Road

Tiny Lasers on Microchips Could Help Self-Driving Cars "See" The Road

Since self-driving cars don’t have drivers, the cars have to perceive their surroundings themselves. Lidar is a great option—it’s like radar but with lasers instead of radio waves—but it’s big and pricy. However, a new kind of lidar from DARPA could change that.

DARPA, the U.S. Department of Defense’s emerging tech branch, announced the new tech last week: It’s lidar that’s small enough to be put on a microchip. These tiny scanners can help self-driving military vehicles survey surrounding terrain to steer, improve targeting capabilities, detect nearby chemical or biological weapons, and more. They’re calling the new system SWEEPER. It sweeps data-gathering lasers back and forth more than 100,000 times a second, which is 10,000 times faster than current lidar.

Right now, lidar systems are big, honking, ugly things that stick out from the bodies of experimental cars—meanwhile, DARPA’s little lidar chips could be discreetly blanketed all over a vehicle. And while...
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