Could you explain, at a high level, what the OURS team built?
We focused on developing mass-producible automotive FMCW lidar solutions using silicon photonics. Over three years we prototyped several generations of FMCW lidar systems with significantly improved integration and manufacturability with each iteration. First, we demonstrated lidar systems with discrete fiber components, then we developed lidar systems with silicon photonic receivers. Finally, we built lidar systems with silicon photonic transceiver and solid-state scanning capabilities, paving the way towards a lidar-on-a-chip solution with ultimate scalability.
Tell us about the path that led you to Aurora. Why autonomous vehicles and why Aurora?
We’ve always been driven by the positive impact our lidar technology could have on the world. Self-driving presented the opportunity for our technology to reach the most markets and touch the most lives.
Three things stood out after meeting the Aurora team. First, Aurora had developed a robust and performant in-house FMCW lidar and we could help it rapidly scale and broadly deliver Aurora’s core technology. Second, we were impressed by Aurora’s leadership and team. Third, Aurora’s collaborative and supportive company culture was clear from the first conversation we had with the team.
Since we joined in February, the newly formed Photonic Integrated Circuits Solutions (PICS) team has been fully integrated. In three short months, we completed the technical integration process, helped define a new lidar roadmap and architecture, started designing several photonic chips specifically optimized for FirstLight lidar, and brought up a new photonics lab in Mountain View.
How does lidar-on-a-chip technology help scale FirstLight lidar? What is one of the toughest challenges you’re trying to solve?
Traditional lidar sensors rely on carefully threaded optical fibers. Leveraging silicon photonics we are able to integrate thousands of components and optical circuits onto a single silicon chip the size of a fingernail. Our lidar-on-a-chip technology reduces or even eliminates fibers in the system and makes our FirstLight lidar cheaper, more reliable, and more powerful.
The toughest part of developing this technology is coupling light onto silicon photonic chips without fibers, requiring precision smaller than one hundredth of the diameter of human hair. We are developing novel solutions that achieve this precision, while producing very high throughput with automation.