University of California researchers are telling Wired that they've developed a new laser technology, which could reduce the size, weight, cost and overall consumption of the sensors needed in driverless cars — possibly resulting in autonomous cars hitting the market faster and at a cheaper price.
The Wired report explains how LIDAR sensors – which serve as the eyes of self-driving cars in monitoring their surroundings – are large and expensive, with Google using $80,000 worth of them in its early car designs.
But Weijian Yang, one of the researchers behind the University of California research project, thinks his team has come up with a new laser technology that can spawn a better breed of lighter, more cost-effective autonomous cars than the ones being built right now.
A LIDAR essentially changes the wavelength of a laser, so that the sensor can accurately identify light bouncing off an object and returning to the sensor. Such wavelength changes require mirror manipulation. Well, Yang's team developed a technology by which they can move the mirrors with the laser itself.
"You don't need an external electrical source," Yang told the journal Scientific Reports, as reported by Wired. "The laser can change the position of the mirror automatically. The light has some kind of force."
With this new option, there's no need for a bulky outside electrical device, and the sensor is smaller, lighter and can be powered with an AA battery. Introducing this to autonomous vehicles could produce a cheaper, more cost-effective choice for the driverless car market — possibly even beating out currently in-testing models to hit the road first.
In addition to creating more cost-effective driverless vehicles, Yang thinks the laser technology could be used in autonomous robots as well.