InVisage launches lightweight Spark4K Micro-LiDAR module for autonomous unmanned aircraft

MENLO PARK, Calif., 16 Sept. 2016. InVisage Technologies Inc., the developer of QuantumFilm camera sensors, is launching its Spark Micro-LiDAR (SML20) module capable of sensing structured light patterns with high acuity at a range of 20 meters, even in direct sunlight – enabling unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones, to self-navigate at a much higher speed.

InVisage launches lightweight Spark4K Micro-LiDAR module for Autonomous unmanned aircraft
InVisage launches lightweight Spark4K Micro-LiDAR module for Autonomous unmanned aircraft

MENLO PARK, Calif., 16 Sept. 2016. InVisage Technologies Inc., the developer of QuantumFilm camera sensors, is launching its Spark Micro-LiDAR (SML20) module capable of sensing structured light patterns with high acuity at a range of 20 meters, even in direct sunlight – enabling unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones, to self-navigate at a much higher speed.

The SML20 ultra-light, compact, low-power sensor module, measuring 8.5 by 8.5 by 4.5 millimeters, is well suited for drones and other mobile autonomous devices that require a lighter, more power-efficient alternative to conventional LiDAR without the limitations of ultrasonic and stereo-camera depth sensing systems.

InVisage launches lightweight Spark4K Micro-LiDAR module for Autonomous unmanned aircraftInVisage launches lightweight Spark4K Micro-LiDAR module for Autonomous unmanned aircraft

This set of images shows a sample scene in direct sunlight (left) illuminated with a pulsed pattern of 940-nanometer structured light and shot with Spark4K (center). The image on the right shows how easy it is to perform depth mapping based on the difference between the image in the center and the same image when the pulse is off, even at a 20-meter range. (Photo: Business Wire)

“In order to perform autonomously at a high flight speed of 20 meters per second, drones and other unmanned vehicles require at least half a second to recognize an upcoming obstacle and another half a second to change trajectory or decelerate in order to avoid it. This means accurate ranging at 20 meters is crucial,” InVisage President and CEO Jess Lee says. “SML20 is the only solution enabling obstacle avoidance at that distance without being weighed down by a traditional bulky LiDAR.”

Many obstacle avoidance systems have turned to mechanical and solid-state LiDAR for depth sensing, but conventional LiDARs place high demands on weight, size, and power budgets, making them unsuitable for drones. The cost of LiDAR is also significant and can range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars per unit. Ultrasonic sensors and stereo cameras do offer more compact form factors than LiDAR, but ultrasonic systems offer only a sub-five-meter range and stereo cameras have high CPU demands and ranging capabilities limited by camera disparity. The SML20 eliminates the need to compromise, delivering effective collision avoidance with small size, minimal weight, and all-inclusive power consumption between 200 and 500 mW on average, according to the range requirements of the application.

Single camera-based obstacle avoidance systems use structured light to map their environments in 3D. Pairing Spark NIR sensors with lasers emitting a specific pattern of light, depth maps are captured by detecting modifications to that pattern. SML20 delivers QuantumFilm’s increased sensitivity to 940-nanometer NIR light (five times that of silicon) at a 1.1-micron pixel size. This allows autonomous devices to perceive their surroundings with an accurate depth map fused with the sharpness of 4K 30fps video previously reserved for cinema cameras, in contrast to the limited information in the series of dotted outlines offered by LiDAR.

Conventional structured light cameras have struggled to perform accurately outdoors or in bright sunlight because more than half of sunlight is in the infrared spectrum. In the resulting wash of infrared, silicon-based camera sensors easily saturate and fail to detect the structured light patterns their devices emit. Optimized for the invisible NIR 940-nanometer wavelength, SML20 takes advantage of the fact that water in the atmosphere absorbs most of the 940-nanometer infrared light in sunlight, minimizing solar interference with structured light systems.

In combination with this wavelength optimization, SML20’s 1.1-micron pixels have a global electronic shutter — the only one of its kind at this pixel size. Because global shutter allows all parts of an image to be captured simultaneously, it eliminates the distortion of fast-moving objects caused by conventional rolling shutter. With global shutter, a structured light source can be pulsed in sync with an ultra-fast exposure, allowing for 20-meter ranging with high solar irradiance rejection while remaining eye-safe and low power.

The Spark4K-powered SML20 module is available now. Pricing and sample information can be obtained directly from InVisage at www.invisage.com/contact.

InVisage Technologies Inc. is a venture-backed advanced materials and camera platform company based in Menlo Park, Calif. that has developed QuantumFilm imaging and sensing technology. The company’s products capture high-fidelity, high-resolution images for a wide variety of mobile and IoT devices, including smartphones, laptops, and drones. Founded in 2006, InVisage Technologies is venture funded by GGV Capital, Nokia Growth Partners, RockPort Capital, InterWest Partners, Intel Capital, Oceanwide, and OnPoint Technologies.

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