LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) is what will give tomorrow’s vehicles their eyes— eyes capable of identifying paths, obstacles, hazards, and conditions. Like its close sibling, radar, LIDAR gives depth perception, critical for safe navigation of rapidly-changing dynamic environments. It is the key technology underlying such formerly fantastical concepts as autonomous vehicles, driver-assisted smart-cars, and smart roadways. By giving tomorrow’s wheeled computers a 3D view of the world, objects can be more accurately categorized and evaluated in real time. In this way, LIDAR is the enabling technology for the coming paradigm-shift in transportation.
LIDAR is not new. It has been used in geomapping applications, where its ability to see through jungle canopies has allowed it to find lost cities and identify vast geological structures. It has been used for surveying for roads and development, and for metrology of buildings, and even the moon. Its basic operating principle is similar to radar: a bolus of photons is directed in a sweeping pattern and the return signal is captured and evaluated in the time domain to determine the presence, shape, and distance of objects and features.