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What is LiDAR: What You Need to Know

If you regularly read tech sites you’ve probably stumbled across the term LiDAR. But what does it mean and why is it important on certain gadgets?

The short version is that LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a technology that measures the range of objects by detecting light.

It’s also used in self-driving cars to measure distances by illuminating objects with lasers and recording how long it takes for the light to bounce back. The usage of LiDAR technology has become more common in recent years as it becomes more accessible and affordable.

Here’s everything else you need to know about it.

How does LiDAR work?

LiDAR sensors emit light and/or sound to measure the distance between objects. This can be any frequency of light. LiDAR systems use infrared and ultraviolet light as well the forms we see.

The light travels towards the object, and when it bounces back, a sensor measures the amount of time it took to travel and bounce back. The sensor can then calculate the distance based on that speed of light.

The same principle applies to sound waves. By emitting sound waves, LiDAR sensors can measure the distance of objects based on how long it takes for the sound wave to hit whatever is in front of it, then bounce back.

LiDAR sensors can be oriented in many different ways to collect data in specific areas. For example, they can be placed vertically to measure distance from a wall or horizontally to collect data on a broader area like a car’s path.

What are the benefits of using LiDAR?

LiDAR technology is commonly used for mapping, analysis, and navigation. It can detect objects and measure their distance from the sensor, which enables the device to create a 3D representation of the surrounding environment.

LiDAR sensors can detect cars, pedestrians, and other obstacles, which makes it a safer way to navigate a vehicle than GPS. In fact, more than a dozen car manufacturers are using it to make self-driving cars. The combination of GPS with LiDAR data allows self-driving cars to create a complete map of their environment and detect objects in real time.

Advantages of using LiDAR over alternative positioning technologies include:

  • Accuracy: LiDAR accurately measures the distance between two points, which is not the case with GPS.
  • Coverage: LiDAR can cover a wider area than GPS, which is limited to a certain radius.
  • No Interference: Unlike GPS, there is no interference from satellites or weather conditions, which can affect accuracy.
  • Speed: Since LiDAR sensors use light, they are faster than GPS.

LiDAR sensors are not limited to cars and autonomous vehicles. They can also be used in smartphones, and the adoption of LiDAR technology in smartphones has increased in recent years. So, the question is, why are more smartphone manufacturers using LiDAR sensors when GPS is sufficient? Well, the answer lies in the benefits of LiDAR over GPS.

With the rising demand for more sophisticated sensors in smartphones, the prices of LiDAR sensors are also decreasing, which is making it more affordable for smartphone manufacturers to integrate it in their devices.

The cost of adding LiDAR sensors in a smartphone is comparable to the cost of adding a camera sensor. In fact, many smartphones already have LiDAR sensors integrated in them, but they are being used to enhance the device’s camera experience.

Which smartphones have LiDAR?

Numerous companies have experimented using LiDAR in their phones, with it appearing on early Google Pixels and Samsung’s Galaxy S20 line. This year the only big flagship to still include is Apple’s iPhone 13 family of handsets.

The future of LiDAR in mobile devices

We’ve discussed why LiDAR technology is more commonly used in smartphones than in cars and will also be used in smart devices like home security systems and wearables. Now, let’s discuss how the technology is evolving.

The COGS sensor, which is currently used in iPhones, is a single-axis sensor that scans light in one direction. This means that the sensor collects data in only one direction. With advancements in technology, sensors are becoming more sophisticated and are able to collect data in 360-degrees.

Although the COGS sensor is a great upgrade over the previous generation sensor in iPhones, the double-axis COGS sensor is expected to be used in the next-generation iPhone 14. The double-axis COGS technology enables the sensor to collect data in two directions. With this sensor, iPhones will be able to collect data in all directions, which will be useful for AR applications.

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