Obstacle detection LRF takes 36000 readings per second and costs only US$350

Today LightWare Optoelectronics released the SF30/B obstacle detection LRF that updates at an astonishing 36633 readings per second and has a range of 50m in all lighting conditions. The introductory price of the SF30/B is just US$350.

The SF30/B is the latest light weight laser product from LightWare designed specifically for use in unmanned vehicles. It includes both a serial port and analog outputs along with a micro USB port for configuration. The update rate, resolution and baud rates can all be set to suit most types of aerial and ground based applications.

The SF30/B is designed to operate either stand-alone as a conventional LRF or it can form part of a scanning LIDAR system to create two dimensional or three dimensional maps. The very fast update rate of the SF30/B makes it ideal for locating potential hazards along the flight path of a UAV and the 50m range gives the flight controller plenty of time to take evasive action.

Additional products in the SF30 family include the SF30/C with a range of 100m for use in larger UAVs, helicopters and light aircraft. LightWare also manufactures the SF10 range of precision AGL altimeters and the popular SF02 LRF. For more information visit lightware.co.za

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MR60
Comment by Hugues on March 6, 2015 at 10:46am

Do you have any video/document tutorial to install and use one of those on a pixhawk with APM:Copter ?

Comment by George Kelly on March 6, 2015 at 11:02am

Random thought:

At least here in 'the Great White North' (Canada), the comprehensive new UAV regulatory framework just released is very strict to the point of prohibitive about the use of any lasers in UAV applications - any lasers, of any strength.

A full, complicated application for permit approval (SFOC) is necessary, but not only that, an additional review by Health Canada taking something like 30 days or so per intended use.

Countries seem to be referring to each other in designing their regulations these days, too.

Beware.

George

Comment by Gary McCray on March 6, 2015 at 11:23am

Fantastic development LD..

Exactly what I am looking for.

Really hard to believe you get it to work at that update rate, I haven't calculated it yet, but you must be near light speed limited at those distances and update rates.

At that max update rate, is the full 50 meters available? or if a lesser distance - what?

Definitely seems perfect for building a very useful scanned 3D point cloud.

I notice resolution is adjustable between 1 and .03 meters, is it continuously adjustable on the fly?

With LIDAR already in use on airplanes, it is hard to see a justification for simply banning them on UAVs that will stand for long, especially when they are going to turn out to be a central cornerstone of our navigation systems.

For now they are trying to restrict use because of perceived safety hazards (and specters of weaponization) but the importance of this technology will, itself lead to the development of reasonable standards that even a politician can understand.

To say nothing of the multiplying uses for obstacle avoidance and automatic braking already in production in consumer automobiles.

I am sure I will be ordering one of these from you soon.

Best Regards,

Gary

Comment by Marc Ramsey on March 6, 2015 at 12:03pm

With LIDAR already in use on airplanes, it is hard to see a justification for simply banning them on UAVs that will stand for long, especially when they are going to turn out to be a central cornerstone of our navigation systems.

That's an interesting comment.  What aircraft do you know of that make use of LIDAR, particularly in US airspace?  

Comment by Gary McCray on March 6, 2015 at 1:07pm

Hi Marc,

Although Radar altimeters are currently much more common in private and commercial applications, there are several companies operating in the US that provide Laser altimetry and scanned LIDAR surveying.

And the fact of the matter is that until now, they haven't really been cheap enough or with sufficient range to make them appealing to a larger audience, but that is, in fact, the point - now they are.

The lasers used are almost invariably infrared and the shape of the lens in the eyeball is such that it does not tend to concentrate the beam on the surface of the retina reducing the danger to the eye significantly versus visible light lasers.

And, in a moving or scanning system, latency is also invariably extremely short negating harmful effects.

In fact, several automobiles now being introduced have automatic braking systems that are dependent on real time lidar systems for detecting obstacles.

In the end we just need common sense and reasonable regulation to prevail.

Radar is certainly not without hazard either and it is everywhere.

The "New" guy always has a harder time of it, as is true for our civilian UAVs in general.

Best Regards,

Gary

Comment by Laser Developer on March 6, 2015 at 2:01pm

Thanks to everyone for their comments.

When a new type of technology becomes commercially available it often raises as many questions as answers. You only have to watch the current rise of the drones to see this effect in action. The SF30 will be no different in this regard and LightWare entered this arena knowing that it was never going to be able to offer an instant miracle cure for UAV collision avoidance. However, I think that we may have opened up a new pathway that needs exploring and in the best possible scenario, this pathway may lead to a workable solution.

LIDAR systems are common on military aircraft, especially helicopters, and there are many companies (several in Canada) that make both laser altimeters and some extremely powerful mapping LIDARs for use on conventional aircraft. Within this context, the only thing that the SF30 is bringing to the table is a more reasonable price and a smaller size. There is nothing new about the underlying technology or its application.

The main reason for introducing the SF30 at this time is a comment made in the provisional FAA regulations that laments the lack of a suitable anti-collision technology for UAVs. I can't help but wonder how the availability of such a technology would affect safety concerns, whether perceived or real, especially in the humanitarian and commercial use of UAS beyond LOS.

We have already stated in another blog that we cannot offer a complete, fully integrated, anti-collision system, we just don't have the resources to do this. Instead, we are offering one component of that system to those more able to apply it.

Gary:

We're running the SF30/C (120m) at about 6.25% of the available flight time at the speed of light, so we still have plenty of speed in hand if we need it. We restricted the SF30/B and /C to 36633 readings per second in order to keep the serial communications at a manageable baud rate below 1Mbit/s. This gives us just enough time to send a single byte at 1m resolution without any data overlap.

The resolution can be changed on the fly to either 1.0m, 0.5m, 0.25m or 0.03m. As the resolution increases, the maximum update rate decreases so that you get 36633, 18317, 9158 and 1145 readings per second respectively.

At all resolutions other than 1m, data is transmitted as two bytes (binary coded integer plus fraction) because there is more time available, and you can also select a lower baud rate or other, intermediate update rates. The idea is to use the higher update rates for obstacle detection and the lowest rate for mapping.

I think that handling the high data rate will be quite challenging for many commercial systems so we've added the analog output so that a simple comparator circuit can be used as an obstacle detector.

I know I haven't answered all your questions and for this I apologize. We're working on a manual for the SF30 family along with some likely accessories.

Comment by Adam Kroll on March 6, 2015 at 6:09pm

Do you know when the gimbal is coming out or have any details, to turn the SF30 into a scanning detection system or scanning lidar?

Comment by Gary McCray on March 6, 2015 at 6:27pm

Hi,

LD, excellent news.

It should work very well for the real time adaptive approach I have in mind.

And it is the perfect match for a Nvidia Jetson board to sort it out.

Although you have given me all the information I need to establish that this sensor is adequate for what I want, I wonder if you could publish a more expansive spec sheet that includes the graph sheets for the various modes, speeds, resolutions and data reliability as you have done for your other sensors.

I do very much believe that your perception of this forming the core of some very powerful sensing and 3D vision systems is correct.

I will be in touch.

Best,

Gary

Comment by Laser Developer on March 6, 2015 at 10:51pm

@Adam - we have some preliminary gimbal designs but no particular timeframe on getting them into production. Again, it's a matter of resources and to keep food on the table we have to put paying projects ahead in the queue.

@Gary - we'll provide extensive documentation as soon as humanly possible.

Comment by RoboBill on March 7, 2015 at 2:00pm

Can't wait to try this one someday. I've got my hands full trying to connect the SF02 v3 to ROS

RoboBill

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