Lumotive, the Bill Gates-funded startup developing LiDAR systems for autonomous vehicles, introduced a beam-steering technology that the company says will significantly improve the performance, reliability, and cost of light detection and ranging (LiDAR) systems. Lumotive’s system uses liquid crystal metasurfaces (LCM) and silicon fabrication to achieve manufacturing efficiency while simultaneously delivering better range, resolution, and frame rate.

Lumotive’s beam-steering technology uses LCMs—semiconductor chips that steer laser pulses based on the light-bending principles of metamaterials. Lumotive’s LCMs have large apertures to improve LiDAR perception while benefiting from the economics of semiconductor manufacturing to enable low-cost systems. Initial production units will be available to select customers for beta testing in the third quarter of 2019.

Lumotive’s system offers a combination of a large optical aperture (25 x 25 mm), 120-degree field-of-view with high angular resolution, and fast random-access beam steering. The company's LCM chips contain no moving parts and are fabricated using mature semiconductor manufacturing along with liquid crystal display packaging to enable a commercially viable LiDAR system with low cost, high reliability, and small size. In addition to cost and performance advantages, Lumotive LCMs can be integrated into small form-factor systems, appealing for other applications in industrial and consumer sectors that can benefit from LiDAR.

“The LCM chip is the holy grail of LiDAR, finally enabling beam steering using a semiconductor chip but efficiently and over a large optical aperture that’s hundreds of times larger than a MEMS mirror or an optical phased array,” said Lumotive Co-Founder and CTO, Dr. Gleb Akselrod. “Our large aperture is like having a bigger telescope, allowing us to see dramatically farther than other systems.”