News Feature | November 9, 2022

Bright Ideas — "Optrodes" Could Revolutionize Prosthetics, Luminar Lidar Hits Production

abby proch headshot

By Abby Proch, former editor


Researchers have found that light-based sensors called optrodes, the optical equivalent of electrodes, could be the component that revolutionizes the performance of nerve-operated prosthetics and brain-machine interfaces. Better at avoiding issues of impedance mismatch and crosstalk, optrodes can fit into smaller places and operate closer together than electrodes. Because of this, researchers are optimistic that their use will allow prosthetics to achieve near parity with biological limbs. For example, it takes between 5,000 and 10,000 neural connections for the human hand to pick up an object and do so with consideration to pressure, precision, and speed. According to research participant Professor Francois Ladouceur with the University of New South Wales, “The real advantage of our approach is that we can make this connection very dense in the optical domain and we don't pay the price that you have to pay in the electrical domain.”

In other medical device news, microendoscopic imaging probes outfitted with both fiber-optic (GRIN) and spherical lenses are giving researchers “better resolution at smaller diameters.” By using two focusing elements, researchers have improved upon the performance of monolithic fiber optic probes. In particular, the combination yields “excellent performance over the entire range of numerical apertures and open[s] the way to a broader range of imaging application.” Fiber optic probes have design parameters that can limit specific imaging depth ranges and offer varying degrees of patient tolerability, but with the new configuration the tradeoffs are considerably less.

Until now, it’s been challenging to get the accuracy of a PCR test system out of the lab and into the doctor’s office. Researchers with the Fraunhofer Institutes for Microengineering and Microsystems (IMM) and for Experimental Software Engineering, however, have recently unveiled a 15x15x20cm test system that spits out on-the-spot results in just 15 minutes. Compact and affordable, the new units include a microfluidic cartridge and pump, heating structures, and a fluorescence camera as a detector. Point-of-care PCR tests have been eclipsed by cost-effective antigen test, which to their discredit cannot adapt quickly to an ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic, but researchers are hoping for a role reversal.

Beleaguered lidar company Velodyne is merging with fledgling Ouster in an effort to consolidate resources — to the tune of $75 million in annualized savings — and make a stronger move toward profitability. According to a report by Tech Crunch, the two have reported losses of $44.3 million and $28 million in Q2, respectively. While the companies did not confirm, layoffs could be eminent. Tech Crunch attributes the merger to a growing trend within the lidar industry, which has plenty of supply in terms of lidar companies but less demand in terms of OEMs needing the tech.

That said, Luminar Technologies has made its production debut with Chinese auto maker SAIC Motor. Luminar’s lidar system will appear in SAIC Motor’s R7 electric vehicle, and that’s slight ahead of its Iris lidar system debuting in the Volvo EX90 electric SUV. Volvo subsidiary Polestar will also feature the Iris system in some of its Polestar 3 vehicles in 2023, according to a report by Despite the good news, Luminar is operating at a $115 million loss for the last quarter, generating just $12.8 million in sales. Still, company CEO Austin Russell affirmed that Luminar would hit all its milestones for 2022, including a 60% year-over-year growth in revenue.

WDJ2147-4035 is around 10.7 billion years old. So says astronomers from the University of Warwick, who also claim the “red” star is one of the oldest hunks of planetary debris in our galaxy. Researchers made the find using a combination of spectroscopic and photometric data from the Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics (GAIA), the Dark Energy Survey (featuring the five-lens DECam with the world’s largest optical corrector component in astronomy), and the X-Shooter instrument (a 300-2500 nm medium-resolution spectrograph), all housed at European Southern Observatory sites in Chile. Spectrum analysis concluded the star has been accreting sodium, lithium, potassium, and (potentially) carbon. One researcher described the find as “very interesting” and “extremely rare” because of its extremely cold surface temperature, polluting metals, old age, and magnetism.