DURHAM, N.C. — Sense Photonics Inc. today said its Solid-State Flash LiDAR sensor, which is designed for industrial usage, is available for preorder. The company claimed that its 3D time-of-flight camera provides a wide field of view and has the longest range available on the market.
The Sense Solid-State Flash LiDAR comes in three customizable versions — Sense 30, Sense 60, and Sense 75 — and is configurable to an outdoor range of up to 40m (131 ft.). “Current off-the-shelf products are much more limited in range,” said Scott Burroughs, CEO of Sense Photonics.
The company was founded in 2016, and it raised $26 million in Series A funding in June. “We’re between fundraising rounds right now, and we want to accelerate growth even faster next year with expanded product lines and new markets,” Burroughs told The Robot Report. “We are currently hiring.”
Sense Photonics improves perception
The Sense cameras provide an angular resolution of 0.27 degrees horizontally and vertically. The time-of-flight (ToF) sensors also offer a vertical field of vision of up to 75 degrees.
“For resolution, a lot of products are just a line scanner — that might be enough for a bumper monitor on a robot, but they can’t see objects or recognize them,” said Burroughs. “Our resolution is 7.5 times better than the competition.”
“The vertical field of view is also really important,” he said. “Ours is 2.5 times better than the competition.”
“The most important thing is not just the range, resolution, and vertical field of view, but also that we can address all three at the same time,” Burroughs added. “There’s not a tradeoff.”
Solid-state and sunlight
Solid-state lidar is becoming more popular, noted Burroughs. “Everybody’s moving toward it, and both automotive manufacturers and industrial automation customers have asked for it,” he said. “It has many advantages — no moving parts, increased reliability, and a more compact form factor.”
“Our solution uses an architecture called Flash LiDAR. There’s no spinning, but one large flash of light,” Burroughs said. “All of the reflected photons are converted into a 3D depth map. There’s nothing simpler than that, and it provides high reliability and eventually a lower price point.”
Sense Photonics said its Sense cameras use a high dynamic range (HDR) technology that can “accurately image a wide range of object surface reflectivities without saturation.”
“Our camera can create a black-and-white intensity map. The lidar doesn’t just provide depth, but it also measures intensity,” explained Burroughs. “We could very easily integrate an RGB camera with our lidar system to provide a rich data set, and we’ve thought about a lot of things that can be done with gathering and combining data.”
“In all cases, higher resolution is better, whether picking something off a pallet or identifying an object,” he said. “The ability to work in sunlight is important for both outdoor and indoor applications such as those near loading docks. A lot of current products don’t do well in direct sunlight.”
“We chose the wavelength and power output to work well in sunny environments,” Burroughs said. “That use case is a big opportunity and a good match to our product, whether you’re looking into a trailer for volumetric measurements, moving a forklift, doing last-mile delivery, or picking from pallets on a loading dock.”
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Sensors to serve distinct markets
“When we first founded the company, we were primarily focused on the automotive market and got feedback on what was needed for autonomous vehicles,” Burroughs recalled. “When we talked with industrial automation customers, we got similar feedback. They wanted longer range, more resolution, and a wider vertical field of view.”
“They’re not exactly the same, so to take advantage of our strengths, we’ve developed one product line for automotive and one for industrial automation,” he said. “The latter is what we’re announcing this week. Because we provide a solution to a market need, we expect a fairly quick adoption rate.”
Sense Photonics is taking preorders now for its Sense Solid-State Flash LiDAR, which is priced at $2,900 per unit, plus shipping. The company said it expects the first shipments worldwide to begin in the first quarter of 2020.
“We’re offering these cameras at a price that allows scalability to high volumes,” Burroughs said. “Spinning lidar would cost several times that much. Over time, as we get to millions of units, the price will come down to hundreds of dollars. We expect this to be very disruptive, and there will be markets that we’re not yet aware of that will evolve.”
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