Innovation Monitor: Let’s Learn about LiDAR

Innovation Monitor: Let’s Learn about LiDAR

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Welcome to this week’s Innovation Monitor. We’re going to explore LiDAR — Light Detection and Ranging — a term that’s been cropping up a lot, most recently as an integral component in iPhone 12 Pro models, and before that, as a way for autonomous vehicles to “see” and map surrounding spaces.

This week we’re going to dive into the technology, how it works, and what it means for innovation. To begin, let’s start with understanding space through sonar (sound waves) or radar (radio waves): waves are sent out, bounce back, and that collected data creates a description of the scene.

Somewhat similarly, LiDAR uses light — a laser — to send a pulse and record its return (actually, millions of pulses simultaneously). The system’s timer then uses the speed of light to calculate the distance of the pulse traveled before striking an object and returning. See this timestamped explainer to get a sense of the math involved.

So what does the result look like?

How about a gorgeous 80s retroscape, of course (which is also when the technology started getting popular).

Image credit: Geospatial World

Besides giving self-driving cars a 3D map they can use alongside GPS for navigatation, and enabling more realistic, faster AR on your new iPhone, LiDAR was used to scan the Notre Dame Cathedral by the late Andrew Tallon, to perform crop mapping… and, well, there are a lot of use cases.

We’ll focus on three specific implementations: the iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR, its use in vehicles (and why Tesla is anti-LiDAR), and as a method of measuring Earth’s natural systems.

Finally, did you know that Radiohead’s House of Cards music video was made with LiDAR, back in 2008?

As always, we wish you and your community safety, calm and solidarity as we support each other through this unprecedented time. Thank you for reading!

All best,
Erica Matsumoto PHONES Lidar Used to Cost $75,000 — Here’s How Apple Brought It to the iPhone

DARPA’s 2005 Grand Challenge saw the first 3D LiDAR mounted atop an autonomous vehicle. Created by Velodyne, the spinning system cost $75,000 — Alphabet would go on to use Velodyne’s tech in their autonomous vehicle prototypes in 2010 (actually, Velodyne’s entire LiDAR history is fascinating — see it here).

Velodyne’s most powerful system surpasses this initial price, but cheaper alternatives now cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. They’d still be too expensive and bulky for the iPhone 12. Ars Technica walks us through the technology — called vertical cavity surface-emitting lasers — that helped Apple make a simpler, smaller, and affordable mobile LiDAR.

Ars Technica — 10 min read Read More Snapchat Will Let Creators Make LiDAR Lenses for iPhone 12 Pro

Snapchat is one of the first companies to leverage the iPhone’s LiDAR scanner for AR — Lens Studio 3.2 will enable developers to build LiDAR-powered Lenses. The company says creators will be able to leverage the iPhone 12 Pro’s A14 processor and ARKit to “render thousands of augmented reality objects in real time.”

During the Apple Event, iPhone Product Line Manager Francesca Sweet noted that LiDAR will be able to create “instant AR” scenes. “Instant” because “current approach derives depth from computer-vision techniques like SLAM, which tracks points in the scene over time to infer depth. Typically this means that the system needs a few seconds and some movement from the camera,” writes RoadToVR.

Engadget — 1 min read Read More The iPhone 12 Pro Can Measure People’s Height — Here’s How

Given what we’ve talked about, you can start to understand how the iPhone 12 Pro gets fairly accurate height measurements. While none of the fluffy articles we read gave an in-depth explainer, the aerial LiDAR explainer video we referenced previously serves as a nice hint.

The Next Web — 2 min read Read More 3D-scanning Canvas app shows what iPhone 12 Pro’s lidar can do

One final example of what LIDAR will enable on the iPhone: imagine spinning around holding your phone up and getting a fully colorized 3D model of your room, where you can measure anything. Yup, that’s here.

CNET — 1 min read

Read More CARS With Robotaxis Still a Distant Dream, Lidar Makes Itself Useful

You know how we mentioned that LiDAR costs have been gradually decreasing? LiDAR companies that were once primarily focused on the autonomous vehicle industry are betting lower-cost models can be used in modern cars for semi-autonomous capabilities like hands-free highway driving. These Advanced Driver Assistance Systems might help extend the runway for startups until fully autonomous technology matures. One example of note is Volvo’s use of Luminar LiDAR systems for its 2022 XC90 SUV.

“If you talk to anybody about three to four years ago, everyone was working on this holy grail of autonomy,” says Velodyne CEO Anand Gopalan. “Now driver-assist systems represent about 35% of the projects Velodyne has won or hopes to win in the next five years, while AVs and industrial robots make up about a 20% slice each,” writes Bloomberg.

Bloomberg Quint — 5 min read Read More Why Tesla Won’t Use LIDAR

Uber, Waymo, and Toyota use LiDAR for autonomous driving capabilities. So do startups in the space. So Why does Tesla dismiss it (in the video below Musk says anyone using the tech is “doomed”), and what does it rely on for Autopilot?

Tesla aims to rely solely on computer vision for a few reasons: LiDAR’s prohibitive costs (see the blurb above) and it’s inability to differentiate between objects (plastic bag vs. road bump). Check out Andrej Karpathy’s talk in the video below for a deeper explanation.

Towards Data Science — 5 min read Read More EARTH Intel Geospatial Is a Cloud Platform for AI-powered Imagery Analytics

This week Intel launched Geospatial, a platform for monitoring and analyzing geospatial data (with support for LiDAR data), with use cases such as vegetation management, fire risk assessment and inspection, object counting, distance measuring, and public and private record reconciliation (remember those myriad use cases we mentioned)?

VentureBeat — 2 min read Read More Lidar Study Suggests Carbon Storage Losses Greater Than Thought in Amazon Due to Losses at Edge of Forests

When part of a forest in the Amazon basin is cut down, “the trees that remain at the edges of the forest are not as robust as those that are situated farther in,” due to the edge’s exposure to pollution, pesticides, and herbicides. Using LiDAR, researchers found that carbon sequestering losses have been undermeasured, “due to omission of data representing losses at the edges of forests.”

“To find out how much carbon sequestering loss has been occurring in the Amazon, the researchers flew multiple missions above the canopy edges in airplanes with lidar guns aimed downward. The technology is able to determine how healthy trees are by measuring their greenness, and thus how much carbon they are able to absorb.” — 2 min read Read More This Week in Business History

This Week in Business History

October 27th, 1929: Peter Drucker publishes his first research paper

Drucker, who effectively launched the entire field of scientific management thinking, at the age of only 19, published his first paper on econometrics in a prestigious European journal.The paper presented a model of the New York Stock Exchange, which proved “with impeccable assumptions that the New York Stock Exchange could only go up.”

Two days later the stock market crashed. “That’s when I stopped-or tried to stop-making predictions,” quipped Drucker. He went on to publishing the Concept of the Corporation in 1946, and advising the heads of many major American corporations over his career.

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