In autonomous vehicles, it is advanced technology that takes the wheel, allowing passengers to sit back and enjoy the ride. Yet such systems have to meet stringent safety standards. For example, an autonomous vehicle must be able to recognize obstacles and other hazards – and apply the brakes in an emergency. Such a vehicle could be equipped with a new microscanner mirror from the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS. This performs a 3D scan of the vehicle surroundings to a range of over 200 meters. When integrated within a LiDAR system, it can obviate the need for human vision and thereby make a key contribution to the safety of autonomous driving.

Today’s vehicles already feature a variety of advanced driver-assistance systems. In coming years, it will become compulsory to install emergency systems such as evasive steering support in new vehicles, thus paving the way for the advent of autonomous driving. Yet even in coming vehicle generations, humans will still be expected to keep an eye on their surroundings and react in dangerous situations. This could well change, however, with the introduction of LiDAR (light detection and ranging) systems, which measure the distance between the vehicle and other objects. Such systems are able to scan the surrounding area for potential hazards and thereby replace the human eye. As such, they mark a decisive step on the way towards safe autonomous driving.

A team of researchers at Fraunhofer IPMS in Dresden has now developed a new type of microscanner mirror, which forms a key element of LiDAR systems that are capable of 3D digital vision. This component is used to steer the laser that generates a 3D scan of the surrounding area. AEye, a specialist for LiDAR systems in autonomous vehicles, is already using the microscanner mirror in its 4Sight LiDAR sensor. “With our technology platform, we’re able to meet design specifications for new microscanners suitable for use with LiDAR,” explains Dr. Jan Grahmann, research associate at Fraunhofer IPMS. “LiDAR systems are able to scan the surrounding area in three dimensions and therefore detect pedestrians, cyclists or other vehicles. Our MEMS mirror splits the laser beam in two dimensions and focuses the light on the object that is being measured. By measuring the time of flight of the reflected light, it is also possible to determine the distance to the object as a third dimension.”


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