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Review: LeddarTech's LED-based detection and tracking technology

By

January 15, 2014

This near-infrared photo shows the invisible IR LED's on the Leddar in action

This near-infrared photo shows the invisible IR LED's on the Leddar in action

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Leddar, short for LED Detection and Ranging, is a new type of detection and ranging sensor that uses LEDs to detect objects and determine their distance. While the Leddar is low resolution, it is also low cost, and it may find new applications in vehicles, traffic management, robotics and safety. Read on for our hands-on review.

Developed by Canadian firm LeddarTech, Leddar is very similar to a Lidar, or Laser Radar. Lidar uses a laser beam to measure distances by determining the amount of time that it takes a laser dot to bounce off a target. Since measuring a point is of limited value, most Lidars sweep the laser around in a circle by bouncing it off a spinning mirror. More advanced Lidars, like the Velodyne 64, use multiple laser beams and a spinning head to measure in three dimensions.

The Leddar uses diffused light from several LEDs to illuminate a scene in short pulses. The LEDs illuminate a whole area at once, instead of a spot, with multiple detectors sampling this light from various angles, all simultaneously. The sensor we were sent for evaluation had 16 detectors in an array, and covered a 90-degree area. This makes the LeddarTech sensor a type of “flash lidar."

The Leddar sensor is a compact package with the LED diffusers below and the distance senso...
Among the key features of this technology are:
  • Low Cost: The LeddarTech sensor evaluation kits sell for US$299, which compares favorably with sweeping laser sensors that range from several thousands up to $70,000 in price.
  • High Update Rate: The sensor samples its entire field of view 100 times a second.
  • Immune to Motion: Many Lidar sensors are subject to “motion blur” due to the sweeping nature of their lasers. The nanoseconds long pulse of the Leddar freezes all but the fastest of motions.
  • Simple Operation: The data from the Leddar sensor is designed to be easy to interpret and work with.

The LeddarTech was very simple to set up – driver software and an application (Windows 7 or later) that could visualize the results were included.

Screen capture of the output of the LeddarTech distance sensor looking at a wall with a do...

In short, we found that the system works exactly as advertised. During our tests, the sensor returned accurate and stable readings from walls, doors and metal objects. Though it does have its limitations – it generally failed to see objects much below six inches (15 cm) in size at the distances I was testing (10-20 feet or 3-6 meters). Occasionally I would get dual returns (two detections from a single sensor) depending on object distance and width.

Potential applications for the Leddar vary from an adaptive cruise control system for cars that detects the distance to cars in front and adjusts speed accordingly; safety zone monitoring for industrial machinery; a simple obstacle detection systems for ground robots – say a robot that is cutting your lawn; traffic monitoring for intelligent traffic lights; and as a perimeter fence for security.

Given the low cost and high-update rate object detection of this sensor, I would certainly consider using it in my robotics applications for collision avoidance. More generally it also heralds the start of a trend towards lower cost detection and ranging units, and solid-state flash units in particular, that will be beneficial to emerging areas such as self-driving cars.

The Leddar comes in a variety of packages and sizes, such as a special ruggedized model for industrial use, and a outdoor model designed for traffic monitoring.

The LeddarTech video below provides a brief overview of the system.

Source: LeddarTech

About the Author
Francis X Govers III Francis Govers is the designer of over 20 land, sea, air and space vehicles and teaches robotics and the design of self-driving cars. He spent 10 years at NASA, helped design the International Space Station, participated in the DARPA Grand Challenge, and managed the only Zeppelin operating in the US. As a commercial pilot, writer, artist, musician, engineer, race car nut and designer, Francis has a serious addiction to building things that frequently gets him into trouble.   All articles by Francis X Govers III
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5 Comments

It would be nice to know the range of this device.

I hope it is fail-safe, i.e. what would happen if the led transmitter or the receiver got obscured by rain, or snow, or whatever? If applied to a self-driving car, would the car just assume that there was a clear road ahead, with a potentially dangerous outcome?

However, there are many applications where being fail-safe is not very important so, considering the price, it seems like a potentially successful product.

Mel Tisdale
16th January, 2014 @ 03:41 am PST

LEDDAR is another of those marketable acronyms with no merit.

Seem like a nice "low cost" alternative to other lidar systems.

NB, nothing in the word LIDAR specifies coherent or other light source.

@Mel Tisdale. A developer can't blame bad system development on a sensor. No basic sensor has any smarts built in, and as a developer one wouldn't want that, because it limits the applications too much. Solve the safety issues in software, the hardware just outputs a signal.

One wonders how all these active sensors will cope once every vehicle (and even the road itself) is actively monitoring traffic conditions, error detection (and failure modes) will become much more important.

MD
16th January, 2014 @ 12:39 pm PST

Leddar is a made up name and has as much merit as Lidar. Wikipedia defines : " Lidar (also written LIDAR or LiDAR) is a remote sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analyzing the reflected light." Unless you know of another light source in common use.

Paul Smith
16th January, 2014 @ 08:57 pm PST

Cheers Paul.

LiDAR = Light Detection and Ranging (Wiki doesn't always have the information which is totally relevant.)

(Created from preexisting - RaDAR = Radio Detection and Ranging.)

See, though they are marketing it as a unique system (WOW it Uses LEDS, which are worse [and cheaper] than laser), it is still LiDAR, using a low quality non-coherent light source and mulitple simultaneous detectors.

Seems as if it will be very useful in low resolution, high PRF applications. I'm not criticising the new tech application, just we have to separate marketing spin (or Journalistic Licence) from real-world applications and uses.

MD
18th January, 2014 @ 10:20 pm PST

It’s really very important information on LIDAE, Thank you so much for your valuable time to write this important blog for us lidar survey companies

Zara Khan
21st January, 2014 @ 02:28 am PST
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