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Volume 581 Issue 7807, 14 May 2020

Line of sight

Lidar is a key technology for modern robotics and self-driving cars, where it complements camera vision and radar, and acts as an eye in the dark for the vehicles. It uses laser light to illuminate an object, and then works out the object’s distance and velocity by measuring reflected pulses. To be effective, the system needs to block out interference from the Sun and other light sources. This can be done using coherent detection, in which the reflected light is mixed with transmitted light and the frequency of the reflected light is analysed, providing a direct way to detect the relative velocity of an object via the Doppler effect. But this approach has proved hard to scale up. In this week’s issue, Tobias Kippenberg and his colleagues present a lidar architecture based on a soliton microcomb that uses a photonic chip. The light source emits a wide spectrum of sharp lines with equally spaced and simultaneously chirped frequencies, which allows the system to obtain parallel measurements across 30 separate channels. The researchers suggest that soliton microcombs could be the basis for a compact, massively parallel, ultrahigh-frame-rate coherent lidar.

Cover image: Ryan Allen/SecondBayStudios & Anton Lukashchuk/EPFL

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