US-based self-driving platform developer Aurora have begun testing their newest FirstLight lidar system on development vehicles, following the company’s acquisition in 2018 of lidar specialists Blackmore, who brought expertise in FMCW (frequency modulated, continuous wave) lidar technology.
Aurora say over the past two years they’ve worked on integrating this technology with their other hardware and software systems, to devise a lidar system with exceptional range and resolution.
FMCW lidar is relatively new, with most vehicle lidars using AM-based sensing (amplitude modulation). In AM systems, the amplitude of light waves from a lidar system is modulated, and the time of flight used to gauge the location of objects. Just as in FM versus AM radio, with FMCW lidar the frequency of the light waves is altered, rather than their amplitude, so instead of pulses of light there is a continuous wave which varies in frequency.
Aurora say this allows acquisition and tracking of not only an object’s location but also its velocity, and that the continuous wave greatly extends the system’s range and ability to see low-reflectivity objects such as pedestrians in dark clothing.