Baraja lifts the trophy of developing the unique Light Detection and Ranging. They are not only using the most discerning and robust method, but it also structurally troubleshoots many problems existing in other lidar technology. Yet it will need beyond well apt technology to excel in this growing market.

Lidar is used to estimate the interval of any point it is pointed towards. It is done by evaluating the reflection time taken by the photons of the laser emitted by the device.

What is lidar Technology?

If we explain how Baraja works, it works by pointing flash light by choosing which color get out of prism, sending extra light to the top part of the scene lit up by the flash light shooting through a prism.

The firm has been estabishing this technology for years with the assistance of Sequoia and Australian VC outfit Blackbird, which earned  a $32 million round by the end season of  2018 — Baraja put the system for the exhibition next year, where co-founder and CEO Federico Collarte stated:

“We remained hidden for a time. “ Few close people were aware about our work.”

The design for the tech originated from the telecommunication’s industry, where Collarte and co-founder Cibby Pulikkaseril mediated a unique application for a fiber optic laser that could adapt itself  really fast.

They discussed their earlier views also, talking in CES “We decided to practically set the light free, move it through prism-like optics, then, hoping we could steer a laser beam without moving parts. The idea seemed too simple — we thought, if results are positive, then everybody would be doing it this way”  Anyhow they quit their jobs and worked on it for a few months with a friends and family round, “It turns they ended up developing a great technology hence they have been successful in distincting it.”

A set of fixed lenses is used to refract that beam into a spectrum spread vertically over its field of view in place of  sending a coherent laser at a single wavelength (1550 nanometers, well into the infrared, is the lidar standard). Yet it isn’t one single beam being split but a sequence of coded pulses, each at a slightly different wavelength that travels ever so slightly differently through the lenses. It returns the same way to the origin of detection when the lenses angle  it to the opposite direction.

It’s a bit difficult to get this idea, but once one does it seem nothing but spectacular. The reason is not only fascinating optics, but because it prevents many serious issues other lidars are dealing with.

Firstly, the entire Baraja system has almost no moving parts. Metamaterials, MEMS, and other methods that don’t have bearings or hinges that can fray have replaced the spinning lidars like the popular early devices from Velodyne.

There are two units in Baraja’s system: a “dumb” head and an “engine.” The head is all glass, just a set of lenses with no moving parts or electronics. The engine is installed nearby or a foot or two away and produces the laser, sends it to the head via a fiber-optic cable (and some kind of proprietary system that rotates slowly enough that it could theoretically work for years continuously). This means it’s not only very sturdy physically, but its volume can be spread out wherever is convenient in the car’s body. Collarte says that the head itself also can be resized more or less arbitrarily without notably changing  the optical design.

Secondly, the method of diffracting the beam gives the system considerable margin how it covers the scene. Different wavelengths are sent out at different vertical angles; a shorter wavelength goes out toward the top of the scene and a slightly longer one goes a little lower. But the band of 1550 +/- 20 nanometers gives it the ability to set its own vertical resolution by allowing for millions of fractional wavelengths that the system can choose between.

It could for example (these numbers are imaginary) send out a beam every quarter of a nanometer in wavelength, corresponding to a beam going out every quarter of a degree vertically, and by going from the bottom to the top of its frequency range cover the top to the bottom of the scene with equally spaced beams at reasonable intervals.

But why bother wasting a bunch of beams on the sky, when it is known that  most of the action is takes place in the middle part of the scene, where are the street and roads? In that case you can send out a few high frequency beams to check up there, then skip down to the middle frequencies, where you can then send out beams with intervals of a thousandth of a nanometer, emerging correspondingly close together to create a denser picture of that central region.

If this is making your brain hurt a little, don’t worry. Just think of Dark Side of the Moon and imagine if you could skip red, orange and purple and send out more beams in green and blue — and because you’re only using those colors, you can send out more shades of green-blue and deep blue than before.

Thirdly, it provides against intervention from other lidar system by the mechanism of creating the spectrum beam. It is an emerging concern that lidar systems of a type could unwittingly send or reflect beams into one another, producing noise and hampering normal operation. Most companies are attempting to alleviate this by some means or another, but Baraja’s method circumvented the possibility altogether.

“The interference problem — they’re living with it. We solved it,” said Collarte.

The spectrum system means that the beam would have to be both a perfect frequency match and come in at the precise angle at which that frequency emerges from and returns to the lens to interfere with the sensor. That’s already vanishingly improbable, but to make it astronomically so, each beam from the Baraja device is not a single pulse but a coded set of pulses that can be individually identified. The company’s core technology and secret sauce is the ability to regulate and pulse the laser millions of times per second, and it puts this to good use here.

Collarte confessed that competition is fierce in the lidar space, but not necessarily competition for customers. “They have not solved the autonomy problem,” he points out, “so the volumes are too small. Many are running out of money. So if you don’t differentiate, you die.”

Instead, companies are competing for partners and investors, and must show that their solution is not merely a good idea technically, but that it is a sound investment and reasonable to position at volume. Collarte praised his investors, Sequoia and Blackbird, but also said that the company will be announcing significant partnerships soon, both in automotive and beyond.

Sadaf Akmal

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