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The commercialization of military-grade technologies generally forces cost reductions in order to compete under open market conditions. However, the requirements in certain consumer applications are becoming more stringent and closer to those of military standard (mil-spec) uses.

The automotive sector is a good example. The rise of driver assistance and autonomous vehicle technology — enabled by Lidar platforms originally developed for military and defense — demands performance specs more closely matching the original military specs, insomuch as driver safety is at stake, according to photonics.com.

Lidar – light detection and ranging – describes systems that use a light beam in place of conventional microwave beams for detection.

The integration of Lidar into automotive applications is now pushing the boundaries of sensor, emitter and package design to exceed current specifications.

Military standards have long defined how rugged components need to be in order to survive in harsh environments. In the realm of optoelectronic components such as lasers and detectors, this has traditionally meant packaging the emitter or detector chip in a metal-can enclosure. The chip is sealed inside the package surrounded by an inert gas and protected from the environment. This type of package lends itself well to surviving various environmental conditions such as shock, vibration and temperature cycling, as well as high- and low-temperature operation. However, the construction of these packages comes with an inherently high cost.

Packaging evolutions in the semiconductor world are now reaching the optoelectronics industry. In assembly plants today, most printed circuit board assemblies are assembled using pick-and-place robotic tools. Most components utilize surface-mount technology, which removes the need for solder wave processes and relies instead on reflow ovens to solder the various components.

With the rise of autonomous vehicle technology, Lidar has become one of the principal detection modes enabling the car’s vision. As in defense, the automotive industry sets very high standards for components to be qualified. In certain cases, the level of qualification that needs to be met is even higher.

In automotive applications Lidar systems are used in the forward-looking direction, with the laser pulses bouncing off of any target in front of the car. On the defense side, similar applications are growing in the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) market space. Here, payload weight becomes an important consideration given the units’ need to maintain a certain level of maneuverability. The Lidar system in these cases could be used for collision avoidance, landing assistance or terrain mapping.