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Title:
NOISE ADAPTIVE SOLID-STATE LIDAR SYSTEM
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/195054
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A LIDAR system includes an optical transmitter comprising a plurality of lasers, each illuminating a FOV in an illumination region. A transmitter controller has outputs connected to respective laser inputs. The transmitter controller generates electrical pulses at the outputs so that the lasers generate light in a desired pattern in the illumination region. An optical receiver has an input FOV in the illumination region and comprises a plurality of detectors, each having a FOV and being positioned to detect light over the illumination region; and a TOF measurement circuit that measures the TOF from the lasers to the detectors. The receiver calculates range information. An adaptive optical shutter positioned between the optical transmitter and the optical receiver has a transparent or reflected region FOV, where the optical shutter restricts illumination at the input of the optical receiver to a region which is smaller than the optical receiver FOV.

Inventors:
FABINY, Larry (3849 Orion Court, Boulder, Colorado, 80304-1024, US)
DONOVAN, Mark J. (1517 Fordham Way, Mountain View, California, 94040, US)
Application Number:
US2019/024343
Publication Date:
October 10, 2019
Filing Date:
March 27, 2019
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
OPSYS TECH LTD. (Azrieli Center Holon, 26 Harokmim StreetBuilding, 8th Floor 49 Holon, Holon, IL)
International Classes:
G01S7/481; G01S17/50; G01S17/89; G05D1/02
Foreign References:
US20170307736A12017-10-26
US20180074198A12018-03-15
US20170168162A12017-06-15
US20170003392A12017-01-05
US20160161600A12016-06-09
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
RAUSCHENBACH, Kurt (P.O. Box 849, Franconia, New Hampshire, 03580, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A light detection and ranging (LIDAR) system comprising: a) an optical transmitter comprising a plurality of lasers, each of the plurality of lasers illuminating a field-of-view in an illumination region; b) a transmitter controller having a plurality of electrical outputs, a respective one of the plurality of electrical outputs of the transmitter controller being electrically connected to an input of a respective one of the plurality of lasers, the transmitter controller being configured to generate electrical pulses at the plurality of electrical outputs such that the plurality of lasers generates light in a desired pattern in the illumination region; c) an optical receiver having an input comprising a field-of-view in the illumination region and comprising: a plurality of detectors each having a field-of-view in the illumination region and being positioned to detect light in the illumination region; and a time-of-flight measurement circuit that measures the time-of-flight of light from the plurality of lasers to the plurality of detectors, wherein the optical receiver calculates range information from the time-of-flight measurements; and d) an adaptive optical shutter positioned between the optical transmitter and the optical receiver and having a transparent region field-of-view in the illumination region, the optical shutter restricting illumination at the input of the optical receiver such that the transparent region field-of-view is smaller than the field-of- view of the input of the optical receiver.

2. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is less than the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors.

3. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the transparent region field-of- view of the adaptive optical shutter is different than the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors.

4. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the transparent region field-of- view of the adaptive optical shutter is different than the field-of-view of each of the plurality of detectors.

5. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the transparent region field-of- view of the adaptive optical shutter is different than the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers.

6. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors is greater than the transparent region field-of-view of the adaptive optical shutter.

7. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the field-of-view of each of the plurality of detectors is greater than the transparent region field-of-view of the adaptive optical shutter.

8. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors is less than the transparent region field-of-view of the adaptive optical shutter.

9. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is greater than the transparent region field-of-view of the adaptive optical shutter.

10. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein a ratio of the transparent region field-of-view of the adaptive optical shutter to the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is chosen to achieve a particular resolution of the light detection and ranging system.

11. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein a ratio of the transparent region field-of-view of the adaptive optical shutter to the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is chosen to achieve a particular dynamic range of the light detection and ranging system.

12. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein a ratio of the transparent region field-of-view of the adaptive optical shutter to the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors is chosen to achieve a particular signal-to-noise ratio of the light detection and ranging system.

13. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein a ratio of the transparent region field-of-view of the adaptive optical shutter to the field-of-view of each of the plurality of detectors is chosen to achieve a particular signal-to-noise ratio of the light detection and ranging system.

14. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein a number of the plurality of detectors is less than a number of the plurality of lasers.

15. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the transparent region field-of- view of the adaptive optical shutter is configured to be less than a size of the desired pattern in the illumination region.

16. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein at least two of the plurality of lasers emits light at different wavelengths.

17. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the adaptive optical shutter comprises a liquid crystal shutter.

18. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the adaptive optical shutter comprises an etalon cavity shutter.

19. The light detection and ranging system of claim 1 wherein the adaptive optical shutter comprises a MEMS shutter.

20. A light detection and ranging (LIDAR) system comprising: a) an optical transmitter comprising a plurality of lasers, each of the plurality of lasers illuminating a field-of-view in an illumination region; b) a transmitter controller having a plurality of electrical outputs, each of the

plurality of electrical outputs of the transmitter controller being electrically connected to an input of one of the plurality of lasers, the transmitter controller being configured to generate electrical pulses at the plurality of electrical outputs so that the plurality of lasers generate light in a desired pattern in the illumination region; c) an optical receiver having an input comprising a field-of-view in the illumination region and comprising: a plurality of detectors, each having a field-of-view in the illumination region and being positioned to detect light in the illumination region; and a time-of-flight measurement circuit that measures the time-of-flight of light from the plurality of lasers to the plurality of detectors, wherein the optical receiver calculates range information from the time-of-flight measurements; and d) an adaptive optical mirror positioned between the optical transmitter and the optical receiver and having a reflected region field-of-view in the illumination region, the optical mirror restricting illumination at the input of the optical receiver to a region which is smaller than the field-of-view of the input of the optical receiver.

21. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is less than the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors.

22. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the reflected region field-of- view of the adaptive optical mirror is different than the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors.

23. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the reflected region field-of- view of the adaptive optical mirror is different than the field-of-view of each of the plurality of detectors.

24. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the reflected region field-of- view of the adaptive optical mirror is different than the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers.

25. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors is greater than the reflected region field-of-view of the adaptive optical mirror.

26. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the field-of-view of each of the plurality of detectors is greater than the reflected region field-of-view of the adaptive optical mirror.

27. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors is less than the reflected region field-of-view of the adaptive optical mirror.

28. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is greater than the reflected region field-of-view of the adaptive optical mirror.

29. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein a ratio of the reflected region field-of-view of the adaptive optical mirror to the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is chosen to achieve a particular resolution of the light detection and ranging system.

30. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein a ratio of the reflected region field-of-view of the adaptive optical mirror to the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is chosen to achieve a particular dynamic range of the light detection and ranging system.

31. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein a ratio of the reflected region field-of-view of the adaptive optical mirror to the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is chosen to achieve a particular resolution.

32. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein a ratio of the reflected region field-of-view of the adaptive optical mirror to the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors is chosen to achieve a particular signal-to-noise ratio of the light detection and ranging system.

33. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein a ratio of the reflected region field-of-view of the adaptive optical mirror to the field-of-view of all of the plurality of detectors is chosen to achieve a particular signal-to-noise ratio of the light detection and ranging system.

34. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein a number of the plurality of detectors is less than a number of the plurality of lasers.

35. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the reflected region field-of- view of the adaptive optical mirror is configured to be less than a size of the desired pattern in the illumination region.

36. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the adaptive optical mirror comprises MEMS.

37. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein the adaptive optical mirror comprises a digital micromirror.

38. The light detection and ranging system of claim 20 wherein at least two of the plurality of lasers emits light at different wavelengths.

39. A method of light detection and ranging, the method comprising: a) illuminating a field-of-view in a desired pattern in an illumination region using a plurality of lasers; b) positioning an optical receiver having an input with a field-of-view in the

illumination region and comprising a plurality of detectors that detect light over the illumination region, each of the plurality of detectors having a field-of-view; c) measuring a time-of-flight of light from the plurality of lasers to a plurality of detectors; d) calculating range information from the time-of-flight measurements; and e) restricting illumination at an input of an optical receiver to a transparent region field-of-view that is smaller than a field-of-view of the input of the optical receiver.

40. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is less than the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors.

41. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is less than the field-of-view of all of the plurality of detectors.

42. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the field-of-view of all of the plurality of lasers is less than the field-of-view of all of the plurality of detectors.

43. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the transparent region field-of-view is different than the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors.

44. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the transparent region field-of-view is different than the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers.

45. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the transparent region field-of-view is different than the field-of-view of each of the plurality of lasers.

46. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors is greater than the transparent region field-of-view.

47. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the field-of-view of each of the plurality of detectors is greater than the transparent region field-of-view.

48. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors is less than the transparent region field-of-view.

49. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the field-of-view of each of the plurality of detectors is less than the transparent region field-of-view.

50. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is greater than the transparent region field-of-view.

51. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein a ratio of the transparent region field-of-view to the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is chosen to achieve a particular resolution of the light detection and ranging system.

52. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein a ratio of the transparent region field-of-view of the adaptive optical shutter to the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of lasers is chosen to achieve a particular dynamic range of the light detection and ranging system.

53. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein a ratio of the transparent region field-of-view to the field-of-view of at least some of the plurality of detectors is chosen to achieve a particular signal-to-noise ratio of the light detection and ranging system.

54. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein a ratio of the transparent region field-of-view to the field-of-view of each of the plurality of detectors is chosen to achieve a particular signal-to-noise ratio of the light detection and ranging system.

55. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein a number of the plurality of detectors is less than a number of the plurality of lasers.

56. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein the transparent region field-of-view is configured to be less than a size of the desired pattern in the illumination region.

57. The method of light detection and ranging of claim 39 wherein at least two of the plurality of lasers emits light at different wavelengths.

Description:
Noise Adaptive Solid-State LIDAR System

[0001] The section headings used herein are for organizational purposes only and should not to be construed as limiting the subject matter described in the present application in any way.

Related Application Section

[0002] The present application is a non-provisional of copending United States

Provisional Patent Application Serial Number 62/651,209, filed April 1, 2018, and entitled “Noise Adaptive Solid-State LIDAR System”. The entire contents of U.S. Patent Application Serial Number 62/651,209 are incorporated herein by reference.

Introduction

[0003] Autonomous, self-driving, and semi-autonomous automobiles use a combination of different sensors and technologies such as radar, image-recognition cameras, and sonar for detection and location of surrounding objects. These sensors enable a host of improvements in driver safety including collision warning, automatic-emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, and piloted driving. Among these sensor technologies, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) systems take a critical role, enabling real time, high resolution 3D mapping of the surrounding environment. To address the requirements of the increasingly complex array of automotive applications, LIDAR systems are required to have fast enough response time to respond to fast moving objects. LIDAR systems also must have sufficient signal -to-noise for the received signal to detect objects at distance. Furthermore, it is desirable for LIDAR systems to have high reliability, with a minimum of moving parts.

[0004] In addition, LIDAR systems can encounter a wide range of conditions and a varied set of requirements for resolution and speed during typical operations. As such, LIDAR systems are needed with operating parameters and capabilities that adapt to changing

requirements and environments.

Brief Description of the Drawings

[0003] The present teaching, in accordance with preferred and exemplary embodiments, together with further advantages thereof, is more particularly described in the following detailed description, taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings. The skilled person in the art will understand that the drawings, described below, are for illustration purposes only. The drawings are not necessarily to scale, emphasis instead generally being placed upon illustrating principles of the teaching. The drawings are not intended to limit the scope of the Applicant’s teaching in any way.

[0004] FIG. 1 A illustrates a schematic diagram of a known solid-state LIDAR system.

[0005] FIG. 1B illustrates a two-dimensional projection of the system Field-of-View

(FOV) of the LIDAR system of FIG. 1 A.

[0006] FIG. 2 illustrates a schematic diagram of an embodiment of an adaptive FOV

LIDAR system according to the present teaching.

[0007] FIG. 3 illustrates a schematic diagram of the optical receiver of an embodiment of an adaptive LIDAR system according to the present teaching.

[0008] FIG. 4A illustrates a schematic diagram of an embodiment of an adaptive LIDAR system using a configuration of an adaptive shutter according to the present teaching. [0009] FIG. 4B illustrates a schematic diagram of an embodiment of an adaptive LIDAR system using another configuration of an adaptive shutter according to the present teaching.

[0010] FIG. 5 A illustrates a two-dimensional projection of the system FOV of the

LIDAR system of FIG. 2 for an embodiment of a particular shutter FOV according to the present teaching.

[0011] FIG. 5B illustrates a two-dimensional projection of the system FOV of the

LIDAR system of FIG. 2 for another embodiment of a particular shutter FOV according to the present teaching.

[0012] FIG. 5C illustrates a two-dimensional projection of the system FOV of the

LIDAR system of FIG. 2 for yet another embodiment of a particular shutter FOV according to the present teaching.

[0013] FIG. 6 illustrates a schematic diagram of an embodiment of an adaptive FOV

LIDAR system using an adaptive mirror according to the present teaching.

[0014] FIG. 7A illustrates a block diagram of an embodiment of an adaptive LIDAR system of the present teaching.

[0015] FIG. 7B illustrates a detailed block diagram of an embodiment of the receiver and

TOF computation electronics described in connection with FIG. 7A.

[0016] FIG. 8 illustrates a flow chart of an embodiment of a method of implementing an algorithm of the LIDAR system according to the present teaching.

[0017] FIG. 9 illustrates a flow chart of an embodiment of a method to implement an algorithm of the noise-adaptive solid-state LIDAR system according to the present teaching that incorporates smart object detection.

[0018] FIG. 10 illustrates a table of operating parameters for a known Micro-Electro-

Mechanical System (MEMS) based scanning LIDAR system.

Description of Various Embodiments

[0019] The present teaching will now be described in more detail with reference to exemplary embodiments thereof as shown in the accompanying drawings. While the present teaching is described in conjunction with various embodiments and examples, it is not intended that the present teaching be limited to such embodiments. On the contrary, the present teaching encompasses various alternatives, modifications and equivalents, as will be appreciated by those of skill in the art. Those of ordinary skill in the art having access to the teaching herein will recognize additional implementations, modifications, and embodiments, as well as other fields of use, which are within the scope of the present disclosure as described herein.

[0020] Reference in the specification to“one embodiment” or“an embodiment” means that a particular feature, structure, or characteristic described in connection with the embodiment is included in at least one embodiment of the teaching. The appearances of the phrase“in one embodiment” in various places in the specification are not necessarily all referring to the same embodiment.

[0021] It should be understood that the individual steps of the methods of the present teaching can be performed in any order and/or simultaneously as long as the teaching remains operable. Furthermore, it should be understood that the apparatus and methods of the present teaching can include any number or all of the described embodiments as long as the teaching remains operable.

[0022] The present teaching relates to solid-state LIDAR systems that measure distances to various objects or targets that reflect and/or scatter light. In particular, the present teaching describes a noise-adaptive solid-state LIDAR system that enables reduction of the noise in the received measurement signal, enabling improved SNR and thus longer measurement ranges.

[0023] Automotive applications require LIDAR systems with a measurement range exceeding 100 meters in order to provide sufficient time for responding to fast moving objects. For example, two vehicles in opposite lanes on a non-divided highway might have an oncoming relative velocity of 250 km/h (150 mph) or more. At 250 km/h, it will only take 1.44 seconds to close a lOO-m gap between the two vehicles.

[0024] The signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of the received signal determines whether an object can be detected at a particular distance with a particular error rate. Signal strength depends on the optical power transmitted. Higher transmit powers provide a stronger reflected return signal increasing the range. However, automotive LIDAR systems are typically constrained by Class 1 eye safety standards, which limit the maximum allowable optical power that can be transmitted. By operating within Class 1 eye-safe standards, a product that emits laser light is considered eye-safe under all reasonably anticipated conditions of use. Once the Class 1 eye safety transmit optical power limit is reached, further improvements in the SNR are best achieved through the optical receiver design and/or signal processing improvements. It is highly desired for LIDAR systems used in automotive application to be completely solid-state with no moving parts in order to maximize the reliability. It is also highly desired for the LIDAR system to be able to adapt to changing measurement requirements and conditions.

[0025] FIG. 1 A illustrates a schematic diagram of a known solid-state LIDAR system.

The system illustrated in FIG. 1 A does not employ a flash transmitter which illuminates the full system field-of-view all at once. Instead, each individual laser in the transmitter array 102 can be fired independently, with the optical beam emitted by each laser corresponding to a 3D projection angle subtending only a portion of the total system field-of-view. One example of such a transmitter is described in detail in U.S. Patent Publication No. 2017/0307736 Al, which is assigned to the present assignee. The entire contents of U.S. Patent Publication No.

2017/0307736 Al are incorporated herein by reference. In some embodiments, the array of transmitters is a regular-spaced array. In other embodiments, the array of transmitters is an irregular-shaped array. In various embodiments, the array of transmitters can be configured in a variety of shapes and sizes.

[0026] The optical beams from the lasers in the laser array 102 share the transmitter optics 104 and the reflected light from the target 106 shares the receiver optics 108. The detector array 110 is solid-state with no moving parts. The detector array 110 typically has a fewer number of individual detector elements than the transmitter array 102 has individual lasers. The measurement resolution of the LIDAR system 100 is not determined by the size of the detector elements in the detector array 110, but instead by the number of lasers in the transmitter array 102 and the collimation of the individual optical beams. A processor in the LIDAR system 100 performs a time-of-flight (TOF) measurement that determines a distance to a target 106 that reflects the optical beams from the lasers in the laser array 102 as detected at the detector array

110 [0027] As understood by those skilled in the art, the evolution of the light from within and through the various optical elements in the LIDAR system can be described as projected at a particular reference plane in the optical system. Without loss of generality, and for purposes of this disclosure, this reference plane is taken to be the plane of the detector array 110. The projection through the LIDAR system of the light emitted from the laser array 102 at the reference plane is referred herein as the illumination region. The detector array 110 is positioned within the reference plane to detect the light in the illumination region. Also for simplicity, the operation of the system is described in relation to a particular target range, which is the position at which an object or target may be located. As is well known, LIDAR systems may operate in three dimensions, meaning that measurement points are taken across a 2D plane at multiple target ranges. These measurements at various target ranges result in what is commonly referred to as a 3D measurement point cloud. The extension to 3D operation based on description at a particular target range is well understood by those skilled in the art.

[0028] When energized, the lasers in the transmit array 102 generate light in a pattern within the illumination region at this plane of the detector array 110. The particular pattern is based on the specific elements in the laser array 102 that are energized so they produce light as described herein. This pattern at the illumination region assumes a uniform reflection across a 2D plane at the target range. As understood by those skilled in the art, a reference herein to a particular pattern of laser illumination in the illumination region is the pattern that is generated by this uniform reflection at target range. During operation, only a portion (or even none in some configurations) of the optical illumination from the laser array 102 will be reflected back to the illumination region. The optical illumination from the laser array 102 that falls on the detector array 110 in operation depends on a shape and position of an object or target 106 at the target range.

[0029] FIG. 1B illustrates a two-dimensional projection of the system field-of-view 150 of the LIDAR system of FIG. 1A. The system field-of-view 150 illustrates the illumination region referred to herein. A field-of-view of an individual detector in the detector array is represented by a small square 152. An illuminated measurement point associated with an individual laser in the transmitter is illustrated by a circle 154. The individual detector size within the array is largely determined by the electrical characteristics of the device. For example, as the size of the active area of an avalanche photodiode (APD) detector increases, the

capacitance of the detector increases, reducing the optical-electrical bandwidth of the device.

The bandwidth of the APD must be maintained high enough to not attenuate or distort the received signal. Typical values for the Optical-to-Electrical (O/E) bandwidth and APD

capacitance in a LIDAR system with laser pulse widths < 10 nsec, are 350 MHz, and less than 2 pF, respectively. In general, to cover the full field-of-view of the LIDAR system, while maintaining acceptable electrical detector performance, an array of detectors must be used. The overall physical size, and dimension of the array is determined by the required field-of-view and the optical lens system of the receiver.

[0030] In the embodiment of the LIDAR system 100 illustrated in FIGS. 1 A-B, the ratio of the number of detectors in the detector array 110 to the number of lasers in the transmitter array 102 is one-to-nine. This can also be seen by the two-dimensional projection of the system field-of-view 150. In this embodiment, the detector array 110 is a 5X5 array. Compared to a flash system with equivalent angular resolution, the detector array cost of the LIDAR system 100 can be lower because the number of detectors can be lower. The measurement resolution of the LIDAR system 100 is not determined by the size of the detector elements, but instead is determined by the number of lasers in the transmitter array 102 and the collimation of the individual laser beams.

[0031] FIGS. 1A-B illustrate a critical aspect of the LIDAR system 100. A single 3D measurement point, the small circle 154 in the overall field-of-view 150 of the LIDAR system 100, is highlighted with that measurement point 154 shown as a dark circle. This measurement point circle 154 has a one-to-one correspondence with a specific individual laser in the laser transmitter array 102. It can be further seen that the measurement point 154 falls within an individual detector, where the field-of-view represented by small square 152 of that individual detector has been shown as a square with a bold outline. For example, the field-of-view of the entire detector array, represented by the large square 156 that includes all twenty-five small squares 152 of the array, can be reached in its entirety by utilizing the individual laser field-of- views, shown in FIG. 1B by small circle 154, from an array of 15X15 lasers whose field-of-view is represented by the 15X15 array of small circles 154. This field-of-view represented by large square 156 can be referred to as the input field-of-view of the optical receiver. It includes any transformation of the various receive optical elements in the path from the target range.

[0032] The 3D resolution of the LIDAR system 100 is determined by the number of lasers in the transmitter array 102. Each laser generates an optical beam that corresponds to a specific angular point in space as shown by measurement point circle 154. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1B, when the single laser associated with measurement point circle 154 (shaded) is illuminated, the pattern in the illumination region is in the shape of circle 154. The field-of- view of the detector that is illuminated by the excited laser is the shape of square 152.

[0033] In such a solid-state LIDAR system 100, each element of the detector array 110 does not require its own separate receive electrical circuit, the detectors instead can be linked to a common receive circuit, since only one detector is needed to measure any given laser transmit pulse at any point in time. This provides a substantial benefit in reduced circuit complexity and cost. However, when all the detectors are linked onto the same circuit, the noise from all the detectors combines, and the increased noise will reduce the sensitivity of the system, reducing the measurement range.

[0034] FIG. 2 illustrates a schematic diagram of an embodiment of an adaptive field-of- view LIDAR system 200 according to the present teaching. The embodiment shown in FIG. 2 includes a transmitter array 202, transmit optics 204, target 206, receive optics 208, and detector array 210 that are similar to those described in connection with the LIDAR system 100 of FIG.

1 A. However, the embodiment shown in FIG. 2 includes an adaptive optical shutter 212 placed in front of the detector array 210. The adaptive optical shutter 212 improves the system performance, as compared to the LIDAR system 100 of FIG. 1 A, by reducing the ambient light reaching the detector array 210. In a LIDAR system 200 that operates outdoors, the ambient light from the sun falling on the receiver generates an optical signal that can be large enough to suppress or obscure the detection of the received laser pulse. The adaptive shutter 212 can be used to block at least some of the ambient light from reaching the detector or detectors that are detecting measurement light from the optical beams emitted by the transmit array 202.

[0035] In some embodiments, the transmitter array 202 comprises a plurality of lasers where each laser, when activated, generates an optical beam that illuminates a field-of-view in the illumination region. A transmitter controller (not shown) is connected to the transmitter.

The controller is described in more detail in connection with FIG. 7A. In many embodiments, the controller is able to control each of the plurality of lasers individually. The transmit controller can thus pulse desired ones of the plurality of lasers in a particular pattern so that the plurality of lasers generates light in the illumination region with a corresponding particular pattern that is based on the particular lasers that are activated. In addition, detector array 210 in the optical receiver includes a plurality of detectors positioned to detect light over the

illumination region. The each of the plurality of detectors generates an electrical detection signal in response to detected light that falls within its respective field-of-view in the illumination region. The detected light is passed to a processor and other circuitry including a time-of-flight measurement circuit that measures the time-of-flight of light from the plurality of lasers to the plurality of detectors.

[0036] The processor and other circuitry in a receive controller calculate range information from the time-of-flight measurements to an object or objects that have reflected the light that is generated by the particular plurality of lasers in the transmit array 202 that are selected by the controller. In this way, different sizes and shapes of the field-of-view and illumination region are generated based on the performance requirements of the system. For example, particular measurement resolution and/or signal-to-noise ratios can be provided by changing a size or a shape of the field-of-view of the system. In various embodiments, various numbers of detectors in the detector array 210 and various numbers of lasers in the transmit array 202 are used. Also, various ratios of numbers of detectors in the detector array 210 to numbers of lasers in the transmit array 202 are used.

[0037] One feature of the present teaching is that the individual lasers, or groups of individual lasers within the transmitter array 202, can operate with different wavelengths. Multi- source and multi -wavelength LIDAR system have been proposed by the assignee of the present application. One example of a system that uses multiple wavelength transmitters is described in U.S. Patent Publication No. 2017/0307736 Al, which is assigned to the present assignee. The entire contents of U.S. Patent Publication No. 2017/0307736 Al are incorporated herein by reference. Using multiple wavelengths in the transmitter results in various illumination patterns with different wavelengths that are generated simultaneously or separately for various purposes. For example, producing optical beams that result in desired illumination patterns at the target and/or detector (i.e. the illumination region) with different wavelengths can be used to achieve various performance metrics, such as generating higher resolution measurements that reduce processing requirements and that increase refresh rates or frame rates.

[0038] FIG. 3 illustrates a schematic diagram of the optical receiver 300 of an embodiment of an adaptive LIDAR system of the present teaching. For simplicity, a 2D diagram is shown here, but the principles apply equally to a full 3D system. The detector array 302 is placed nominally at the image plane of the optical system in the optical receiver. In some embodiments, the detector array 302 is not wavelength sensitive. In other embodiments, the detector array 302 is wavelength selective. The receive optical system is represented by receive lens 310, but may include multiple lenses and/or other optical elements. The size of the detector array 302 combined with the focal length of the optical system determines the maximum field- of-view of the optical receiver 300.

[0039] The schematic diagram shows ray traces 304 for the received beam that image to the center of the detector array 302 as well as ray traces 306 for the received beam that image to the topmost point of the detector array 302. Different points in the receiver field-of-view image to different detectors in the detector array dependent on their angular position. The angle 308 between ray traces 304 for the center of the detector array 302 and ray traces 306 for the topmost point of the detector array 302 represent half of the maximum field-of-view for the optical receive system.

[0040] The received optical beams reflected from the target pass through one or more receive lens 310 and an adaptive shutter 312 before striking the detector array 302. An optical notch filter 314 is positioned in front of the receiver lens 310. This optical notch filter 314 is used to reduce the solar radiation on the detector array 302. On a sunny day, at sea level, the maximum solar radiation is about 1 kW/m 2 . Typically, the optical notch filter 314 is designed to reduce this radiation as much as possible and limit the optical receive bandwidth to a wavelength region corresponding to the expected wavelength range of the transmitter laser. For a LIDAR system operating -900 nm wavelength, a 20nm bandwidth optical notch filter will lower the solar radiation to less than 2% of the total solar radiation. Even at this reduced level, however, the ambient light incident on the detectors in the detector array 302 on a sunny day can be significant.

[0041] One feature of the present teaching is that an adaptive shutter positioned between the object being interrogated and the detector array can be used to block light that can interfere with the ranging measurement. FIGS. 4A-B provide a simplified 3D representation to illustrate the concept of adapting the receive field-of-view. FIG. 4A illustrates a schematic diagram of a configuration of an embodiment of an adaptive LIDAR system 400 using an adaptive shutter 402 of the present teaching. A transmitter 404 emits an optical pulse which reflects off a target object, which is represented in the diagram as a cube 406. The reflected light 408 from the target object that is captured by the receiver lens 410 is focused onto the detector array 412 which sits nominally at the image plane. Only one detector element 414 within the 2D detector array 412 is needed to capture all of the light from the transmitter 404 that is reflected from the target object 406 as the target object 406 takes up only a portion of the receiver field-of-view. The adaptive shutter 402 is controlled to block substantially all of the light incoming onto the detector array 412 from other angles within the field-of-view of the two-dimensional detector array 412. This is represented in the figure by a smaller clear aperture 416 within a larger opaque structure 418 that is part of the adaptive shutter 402. In some embodiments, the transmitter 404 is a two- dimensional laser array. In these embodiments, for different lasers in the laser array, which correspond to different 3D measurement points, the LIDAR system will change the adaptive shutter 402, adjusting the location and size of the substantially transparent area 416, to correspond to the angular position of the current 3D measurement point that corresponds to the laser element that is activated within the receiver field-of-view.

[0042] FIG. 4B illustrates a schematic diagram of a second configuration of an embodiment of an adaptive LIDAR system 450 using an adaptive shutter 452 of the present teaching. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 4B, a transmitter 454, which may be the same transmitter in the same position as the transmitter 404 of FIG. 4A generates an optical pulse that reflects off a target object, which is represented in the diagram as a cube 456. The transmitter 454 may be a two-dimensional array of laser emitters. The target object represented by cube 456 is in a different position than the target object represented by cube 406 of FIG. 4A. Reflected light 458 from the target object represented by cube 456 captured by receiver lens 460 is focused onto the detector array 462 that is positioned nominally at the image plane. Only one detector element 464 within the 2D detector array 462 is needed to capture all of the light from the transmitter 454 that is reflected from the target object (cube 456) as the target object (cube 456) takes up only a portion of the receiver field-of-view.

[0043] The adaptive shutter 452 is controlled to block substantially all of the light incoming onto the detector array 462 from other angles within the field-of-view of the two- dimensional detector array 462. This is represented in the figure by a smaller clear aperture 466 within a larger opaque structure 468 that is part of the adaptive shutter 452. The smaller clear aperture 466 is in a different position within the larger opaque structure 468 that is part of the adaptive shutter 452. The reflected light 458 impinges on a detector element 464 at a different position in the two-dimensional detector array 462. Thus, FIGS. 4A-B show two different configurations of the adaptive shutter 402, 452 corresponding to two different positions of the object 406, 456 in the field-of-view in the case where the transmitter 404, 454 and the detector array 412, 462 are in the same position. Those skilled in the art will understand different configurations of the elements that can produce blocking of background light and passing measurement light using the adaptive shutter of the present teaching.

[0044] An adaptive optical shutter as described herein can be constructed in a variety of ways. For example, one embodiment of the optical shutter is a liquid crystal shutter. The liquid crystal shutter can be configured as a 2D array of pixels, where each pixel can be individually controlled. Those pixels corresponding to the current measurement field-of-view where light should pass through the liquid crystal shutter would be controlled to the“open” state, whereas the remainder of the pixels would be in the“closed” state. The region of“open” state corresponds to the transparent region field-of-view. The reported contrast ratio of liquid crystal optical shutters is as high as 1000: 1 for“open” versus“closed” states. The size and shape of the “open” and“closed” state regions of the shutter can vary for different embodiments based on the shape and size of the region of pixels in the“open” or“closed” states. For example, referring to FIG. 4B, an“open” state is the region of pixels represented in the figure by the relatively small clear aperture 466 within the large opaque structure 468 that has pixels that are in a“closed” state. [0045] Another embodiment of the optical shutter is an etalon cavity shutter formed using partially reflective micro-mirrors that can tune to reflect the incoming laser light based on wavelength. The etalon cavity shutter consists of a 2D array of pixels, where each pixel can be individually tuned. Each pixel is adjusted as required by the LIDAR system to reflect or pass the transmitter light. In such a system, the etalon also has the additional benefit of acting as a wavelength filter. The wavelength sensitivity of the etalon shutter is distinct from the liquid crystal shutter which is largely wavelength insensitive in the region of interest. The wavelength sensitivity of the etalon cavity shutter in a multi -wavelength LIDAR could also give additional flexibility to the LIDAR system, because, unlike a fixed thin-film filter, the etalon cavity can be tuned to pass or reject various wavelengths as desired in order to produce an adaptive receiver for both field-of-view and wavelength. The above description of optical adaptive shutters represents just two potential examples. One skilled in the art will appreciate that other optical shutter technologies can be used to realize an adaptive LIDAR system of the present teaching.

[0046] In the case of a silicon based detector technology, such as a silicon APD or silicon photomultiplier, then all or some portion of the optical shutter can potentially be integrated into the same silicon chip as containing the detector array. This is possible with both liquid crystal and Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) based optical shutter devices. One skilled in the art will appreciate that both transmissive and reflective devices can be used to provide an optical shutter according to the present teaching. For example, the effective transparent region of a reflective device is that region that reflects or passes the portion of the optical beam from the optical transmitter to the optical receiver.

[0047] One feature of the present teaching is that system performance can be controlled based on the configuration of the shutter. The transmitter and/or the detector provide different resolution and signal-to-noise ratios for different shutter fields-of-views. FIG. 5A illustrates a two-dimensional projection of the system field-of-view 500 of the LIDAR system of FIG. 2 for an embodiment of a particular shutter field-of-view of the present teaching. The system field-of- view 500 includes contributions from the various field-of-views that are provided by various parts of the system. In this embodiment, a two-dimensional array of laser field-of-views, which are represented by circles 502, are produced from each collimated optical beam produced by each laser element in the transmitter array.

[0048] The laser field-of-views shown by the 15X15 array of circles 502 are produced by a 15X15 array of laser elements. Various embodiments utilize various different sizes and shapes of laser field-of-view. An individual detector field-of-view is represented by smaller squares 504. The full detector array field-of-view is represented by the larger square 506 for this embodiment of a 5X5 detector array. The larger square 506 comprises a 5X5 array of small squares 504. The optical shutter blocked field-of-view is indicated by the square region 508 that covers the majority of the detector array. The optical shutter transparent field-of-view is indicated by the square 510. The optical shutter restricts the field-of-view to a size that is represented by the square 510, which is smaller than the total field-of-view of the detector array, large square 506, but that is larger than the field-of-view of a single detector element that is represented by the smaller square 512 that falls under the transparent field-of-view provided by the shutter represented by the square 510. A single activated laser element generates an optical beam that provides a measurement signal over the particular field-of-view that shown by the circle 514. In this case, the illumination pattern of the energized laser array in the illumination region is circle 514 that falls inside the field-of-view of a single detector in the array represented by square 512. In this configuration, ambient light will fall onto the detector element being used for the laser pulse measurement as well as some of the surrounding detectors because the shutter field-of- view is greater than a single detector field-of-view. However, it will be substantially blocked from the other detectors in the array that are not within the transparent field-of-view of the shutter, square 510.

[0049] FIG. 5B illustrates a two-dimensional projection of the system field-of-view 530 of the LIDAR system of FIG. 2 for another embodiment of a particular shutter field-of-view of the present teaching. The system field-of-view 530 includes field-of-views from each optical beam generated by a laser element in a two-dimensional array and shown as small circles 532. Small squares 534 represent the field-of-view for individual detectors. The large square 536 represents the field-of-view for a full detector array. The large square 538 is the field-of-view of the full optical shutter, and the square 540 is the transparent region of the shutter. The optical shutter is dimensioned to restrict the transparent field-of-view represented by square 540 to a size that is smaller than the field-of-view of a specific single detector element 544. The optical shutter is also dimensioned so as to not attenuate the received light from the laser transmitter pulse that generates the optical beam field-of-view, which is represented by circle 542. The optical shutter configuration of the LIDAR system of FIG. 5B has improved signal -to-noise ratio performance compared to the optical shutter configuration of the system illustrated in FIG. 5 A at least because the optical shutter in FIG. 5B reduces more ambient light falling onto the detector array without attenuating the transmit optical pulse power that is received. Said differently, the optical shutter blocks more interfering light and does not block measurement signal light (that is, the signal light stays the same). In general, using this teaching illustrated in FIG. 5B, the ratio of the transparent region field-of-view of the optical shutter to the field-of-view of at least one of the plurality of detectors in the detector array can be chosen to achieve a particular resolution of the LIDAR system depending on the specific requirements of the system.

[0050] FIG. 5C illustrates a two-dimensional projection of the system field-of-view 560 of the LIDAR system of FIG. 2 for another embodiment of a particular shutter field-of-view according to the present teaching. As with the projections shown in FIGS. 5A-B, there are laser measurement field-of-views represented as circles 562, individual detector field-of-views represented by small squares 564, a full 2D detector field-of-view represented as large square 566, and a full shutter field-of-view represented as large square 568. The open state of the shutter produces small square 570 near the active detector field-of-view represented by square 572, and active laser measurement spot represented by circle 574.

[0051] The optical shutter restricts the transparent region field-of-view to a size represented by small square 570 that is smaller than the field-of-view of a single detector represented by square 572, and also that is smaller than the field-of-view illuminated by the laser transmitter pulse represented by the circle 574. In this configuration, only one-quarter of the transmit pulse, represented by the upper left quadrant, hits the detector array. The LIDAR system of the optical shutter configuration embodiment of FIG. 5C has a 3D measurement resolution four times larger than the shutter configuration described in connection with the embodiments illustrated in FIG. 5A or FIG. 5B because the optical shutter allows sampling of a subset of the field-of-view of a single laser pulse represented by circle 574. The 3D

measurement resolution of the system in FIG. 5C is now determined by the optical shutter configuration, and not by the number of lasers in the system or by the collimation of each laser optical beam. Of course, there is a performance tradeoff. The LIDAR system shown in FIG. 5C will have a lower signal-to-noise ratio since only a portion of the received laser pulse is used for a time-of-flight measurement. In general, using this teaching illustrated in FIG. 5C, the ratio of the transparent region field-of-view of the optical shutter to the field-of-view of at least one of the plurality of lasers in the laser array can be chosen to achieve a particular resolution of the LIDAR system depending on the specific requirements of the system, such as a desired SNR.

[0052] To be more explicit about the impact of the different field-of-views of the LIDAR system optical components, the following parameters are defined: (1) FOV T = Divergence (projected conic) of a single laser element in the transmitter; (2) FOV D = field-of-view of a single detector element (e.g. pixel) in the detector array; and (3) FOV s = field-of-view

corresponding to the effective aperture of a single pixel of the optical shutter or mirror, which is the transparent region field-of-view.

[0053] For many of the embodiments of the LIDAR systems of the present teaching, the

FOV T is less than FOV D . Having FOV T less than FOV D is a major difference between the solid- state LIDAR system embodiments of the present teaching and known so-called flash based LIDAR systems. In flash-based LIDAR, FOV T > FOV D The measurement resolution of these flash LIDAR systems is determined by FOV D , and simultaneous 3D measurements are made using a 1D or 2D array of detectors. In contrast, for many embodiments of LIDAR systems of the present teaching, signal -to-noise ratio performance is significantly improved compared to flash-based LIDAR because FOV T < FOV D .

[0054] In addition, one feature of the present teaching is that some embodiments of

LIDAR systems of the present teaching implement a shutter or mirror with FOV s that is independent of FOV T and FOV D . That is in various embodiments, FOV s can be different from either FOV T or FOV D For LIDAR systems configured with FOV s < FOV D > FOV T , the signal-to- noise ratio performance is improved compared to a system without the adaptive shutter/mirror by suppression of the ambient solar noise on the detector. For LIDAR systems configured with FOV s < FOV j > FOV d , the 3D measurement resolution is determined by the adaptive

shutter/mirror, enabling a higher measurement resolution. Signal-to-noise ratio is typically reduced in this case since only a portion of the transmitter light is being used, even though additional suppression of ambient solar noise is being performed.

[0055] FIG. 6 illustrates a schematic diagram of an embodiment of an adaptive FOV

LIDAR system 600 using an adaptive mirror 602 according to the present teaching. In this embodiment, an adaptive mirror 602 is used to control the field-of-view of light impinging on a detector 614 instead of an optical shutter. A transmitter 604, which may be a laser array, emits an optical beam 606 that is projected to a target range by transmit optics 608. The transmit optics 608 may be a single lens, or it may include multiple lenses and/or other optical elements known in the art. Light is reflected at the target range by an object 610. Reflected light is collected by receive optics 612 and projected onto the adaptive mirror 602. The receive optics 612 may be a single lens, multiple lenses, and/or include other optical elements that project the light reflected from the object 610. The adaptive mirror 602 selectively projects the reflected light to a detector 614. The detector 614 may be an array of detector elements. As described herein, the region of the adaptive mirror that reflects light to the detector would be considered a transparent region. This region is also referred to as the reflected region field-of-view.

[0056] The adaptive mirror 602 is constructed in such a way as to create a 2D matrix of mirrors that can be controlled in such a fashion as to reflect a portion of the light in one direction, while deflecting the remainder of the light in a different direction. The light corresponding to the desired field-of-view for the measurement is reflected by the adaptive mirror to the detector 614. Thus, the adaptive mirror 602 generates a reflected region field-of-view at the detector 614, thereby restricting illumination at the input of the optical receiver to a region which is smaller than the optical receiver field-of-view. The configuration of the adaptive 2D mirror 602 depends on the coarseness of the array (e.g. number of pixels desired) and can be constructed in a variety of ways.

[0057] In one embodiment, an adaptive field-of-view LIDAR system receiver according to the present teaching utilizes an optical receiver with a field-of-view of 45 degree x 30 degree. This embodiment includes a transmitter comprising a plurality of lasers each with a field-of-view of -0.25 degrees. For an adaptive mirror with 1920x1080 pixels, which can adaptively reflect across the 45 degree x 30 degree field-of-view of the receiver, a region of 10x9 pixels would correspond to 0.25 x 0.25 degree field-of-view. Thus, in order to capture the full reflected power from a single laser, you need to use 10x9 = 90 pixels. However, we can always choose to use either more or less pixels to reflect the optical beam from a single laser. In state-of-the-art LIDAR systems, the receiver must have a large dynamic range to capture both small return signals from distant, low reflectivity objects, as well as large signals from close, highly reflective objects. Objects that are close often will saturate the receiver with too high optical input power to the detector.

[0058] In this embodiment of a LIDAR system with an adaptive mirror, we can choose to attenuate the laser pulse by using fewer mirrors than what corresponds to the full return pulse field-of-view. For example, this embodiment could support a configuration having only one mirror reflecting the optical beam, which would result in 1/90 of the return light from the laser pulse going to the detector. Such a system can be used to further improve the dynamic range of a LIDAR system and, in particular, can provide a desired dynamic range of the LIDAR system based on a ratio of the transparent region field-of-view of the optical shutter and the field-of- view of at least some of the plurality of lasers. The values of the fields-of-view in this particular embodiment are only to illustrate the present teaching and that many other values can be used.

[0059] Many different types of MEMS or even hybrid structures could be used to construct the adaptive 2D mirror 602. One example of an adaptive mirror using MEMS fabrication techniques with a high pixel count is the DLP6500 Digital Micromirror Device manufactured by Texas Instruments. The DLP6500 contains > 2 million micromirrors. The high pixel count of the DLP6500 would allow implementation of a LIDAR system with an adaptive mirror that determines the 3D measurement resolution as described in connection with the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 5C. It should be understood that the embodiment of the adaptable LIDAR system illustrated in FIG. 6 is only meant to represent some features of the present teaching. Additional optical elements, such as lenses and prisms would be included in a practical optical design that performs the required beam steering functions.

[0060] FIG. 7A illustrates a block diagram of an embodiment of an adaptive LIDAR system 700 according to the present teaching. The LIDAR system 700 has six main components: (1) controller and interface electronics 702; (2) transmit electronics including laser driver 704; (3) the laser array 706; (4) receive and time-of-flight computation electronics 708; (5) detector array 710; and the (5) adaptive shutter/mirror 712. The controller and interface electronics 702 controls the overall function of the LIDAR system 700 and provides the digital communication to the host system processor 714. The transmit electronics 704 controls the operation of the laser array 706 and sets the pattern of laser firing. The receive and time-of-flight computation electronics 708 receives the electrical detection signals from the detector array 710 and then processes these electrical detection signals to compute the range distance through time-of-flight calculations. The receive electronics 708 also controls the adaptive shutter 712 based on information received from the controller and interface electronics 702 and/or the transmit electronics 704. In some embodiments, the controller and interface electronics directly controls the adaptive shutter/mirror rather than the receive electronics. The downstream transmit and receive optics and the objects that are positioned at a target range are not shown in the LIDAR system of FIG. 7 A.

[0061] The adaptive LIDAR system 700 thus comprises an optical transmitter comprising a plurality of lasers in laser array 706, where each of the plurality of lasers in the laser array 706 illuminate a field-of-view. A transmitter controller having a plurality of electrical outputs connects to the laser array 706. In the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 7A, the transmitter controller includes elements in the controller and interface electronics 702 and elements in the transmit electronics and laser driver 704. The laser driver 704 is able to individually activate the laser elements in laser array 706. Thus, the transmitter controller includes a plurality of electrical outputs where a respective one of the plurality of electrical outputs connects to an input of a respective one of the plurality of lasers in the array 706. In an alternative embodiment, the transmitter controller includes a plurality of electrical outputs that connect to inputs of a plurality of lasers in the array 706 in any desired configuration using matrix addressing where rows and columns are addressed according to a desired addressing scheme.

[0062] Referring to both FIG. 2 and 7A, in some embodiments, the transmitter controller is configured to generate electrical pulses at the plurality of electrical outputs to activate the lasers in the array 202, 706 such that the plurality of lasers generates light in a desired pattern in the illumination region at the plane of detector array 210, 710. The detector array 210, 710 has a field-of-view that includes the field-of-view of each of the plurality of detectors that are position to detect light across the illumination region. The detectors in the array 210, 710 are connected to receive electronics 708 that includes time-of-flight measurement circuit 708 that determines the time-of-flight of light from the plurality of lasers in the array 706 to the plurality of detectors in the array 710. The receive electronics 708 also calculates range information from the time-of- flight measurements. An adaptive optical shutter 212, 712 positioned between the optical transmitter and the optical receiver has a transparent region field-of-view in the illumination region and restricts illumination at the input of the optical receiver such that the transparent region field-of-view is smaller than the field-of-view of the input of the optical receiver.

[0063] FIG. 7B illustrates a detailed block diagram of an embodiment of the receiver and time-of-flight computation electronics 750 described in connection with FIG. 7A. A receive front end 752 is electrically connected to an output of a detector array (not shown). The receive front end includes an input amplifier 754 that sends signals to various circuits (some optional), such as a Time-to-Digital Converter (TDC) 756, an amplitude sampler 758, and an analog-to- digital converter 760. These circuits communicate with a data processor 762. The data processor 762 is connected to a data monitoring and digital communication interface 764 and to a control and synchronization logic circuit 766 that is also connected to the data monitoring and digital communication interface 764.

[0064] The received electrical detection signal from the detector array is input to the receiver front-end 752 and sent to the input amplifier 754 that boosts the received electrical detection signals from the detector before further processing. The signal output from this amplifier is then split to several different circuits. In various embodiments, three possible circuits, the time-to-digital converter 756, the amplitude sampler 758, and the analog-to-digital converter 760 can be used together or in any combination. The time-to-digital convertor 756 is a specialized circuit that recognizes when the input signal crosses some amplitude threshold, and then provides a digital representation of the time of that event. For a time-of-flight measurement system, the event typically corresponds to the arrival of a reflected transmit pulse and the time of this arrival corresponds to the distance of the object. The amplitude signal block 758 is a circuit that is triggered by the same event as the time-to-digital convertor 756, but instead of recording the time, it records the amplitude. The analog-to-digital circuit 760 converts the analog received electrical detection signals into a digital signal corresponding to some sampling rate. The processed signals received from the receiver front end are then input to a data processing circuit 762 that interfaces with a trigger and sync lock circuit 766. A data monitoring and digital communication interface 764 then sends signals to the controller and interface electronics as shown in FIG. 7A.

[0065] In the embodiment of the receive electronics and time-of-flight computation circuit 750 shown in FIG. 7B, the input from the detector array is input to a single time-of-flight measurement circuit. All of the detectors are connected in such a way as to combine their outputs and direct to a single time-of-flight measurement circuit. This feature simplifies the time-of-flight circuit and lowers cost. However, the noise from all the detectors can combine in this system and degrade the signal-to-noise of the measurement signal. The adaptive

shutter/mirror shown in FIG. 7A is used to minimize the noise contribution to the system from solar radiation by reducing the illumination on those portions of the detector array not corresponding to the current measurement point.

[0066] In other embodiments of the receive electronics and time-of-flight computation circuit of the present teaching, not all detectors are combined to a single TOF measurement circuit, but instead some subset of detectors may be grouped with each subset having its own TOF circuit. In these embodiments, the adaptive shutter/mirror is used to restrict the light falling onto a portion of detectors making up one subset as defined by a shared time-of-flight measurement circuit.

[0067] One skilled in the art will appreciate that the block diagrams shown in FIGS. 7A-

B, which illustrate functions of the LIDAR system, are not limiting the present teaching to any specific hardware configuration. For example, each of these circuits may be separate circuits or integrated. Also, the transmit and receive blocks may be on separate printed circuit board assemblies (PCBA) and/or separate modules. For the receive electronics block, all or part of the front end, may be part of an integrated circuit that is attached directly to the detector array, or these circuits can be on the PCBA with other circuits. In some embodiments, the controller function might be combined with some or all of the transmit and receive electronics inside a field programmable gate array (FPGA), application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) or similar type of integrated or hybrid device.

[0068] FIG. 8 illustrates a flow chart of an embodiment of a method 800 of implementing an algorithm of the LIDAR system according to the present teaching. In the first step 802 of the method 800, a controller is initialized. The controller can be any controller that is connected to both the transmit array and detector array of the noise-adaptive solid-state LIDAR system. For example, the controller can be the controller described in connection with FIG. 7A.

[0069] In the second step 804 of the method 800, a desired illumination pattern for generating the 3D point cloud is selected by the controller. The illumination pattern includes a particular illumination spatial shape that can change as a function of time. The controller is configured to pulse individual lasers, or groups of lasers, on and off to provide a desired illumination pattern at the target range and associated illumination region on the detector array. In some embodiments, the pattern is a simple row-by-row scan of each laser element in a row, continually repeated to provide a uniform refresh rate. In other embodiments, the pattern is pseudo-random where the system moves from measurement point to measurement point in a non-continuous manner that still acts to cover the full field-of-view of the entire transmitter array uniformly over time.

[0070] In the third step 806 of the method, the controller selects an individual laser, or group of lasers, to fire based on the desired pattern. The controller then configures the adaptive shutter/mirror to block illumination of the portions of the detector array not needed to measure the reflected transmitted laser pulse in step four 808.

[0071] In the fifth step 810 of the method 800, the LIDAR system fires the laser or lasers that have been selected in the third step 806. In the sixth step 812 of the method 800, the LIDAR system receives at the controlled detector array, the optical pulses from the fired lasers and calculates the time-of-flight and samples amplitude/time as desired. The system determines whether pulse averaging is implemented in the seventh step 814. If pulse averaging is implemented, then the method loops back to the fifth step 810 and the sixth step 812 of the method, firing the same laser, or groups of lasers, and taking measurements on the received signal from that laser, or groups of lasers, as many times as required by the desired amount of averaging. For example, in one specific method according to the present teaching, the averaging fires up to four pulses in order to improve the SNR. In other specific methods according to the present teaching, the averaging fires a larger number of pulses, for example up to twenty-five or more pulses. Firing a larger number of pulses takes a longer period of time, but provides more improvement in SNR than pulse averaging. [0072] Thus, in some embodiments of the present teaching, a combination of multiple measurement points using multiple laser pulses in a particular field-of-view is averaged to determine object distances to improve the signal -to-noise ratio. Multiple pulses from the same laser are averaged at the detector to increase the signal. Various embodiments use different numbers of pulses. While more pulses lead to a better signal-to-noise ratio, the system is limited in how many pulses can be averaged based on the time allowed by the system refresh rate. In some embodiments four or more pulses are used. In other embodiments, ten or more pulses are used, and in still other embodiments more than twenty-five pulses are used.

[0073] In the eighth step 816 of the method 800, after obtaining the desired number of pulses for an individual laser or lasers, the system can apply digital signal processing to manipulate the data in some fashion. After processing, the controller stores and/or

communicates the data in the ninth step 818 of the method 800. In the tenth step 820 of the method 800, a decision to stop or continue is made. The controller then moves onto the next laser in the pattern at the third step 806 of the method 800. The system continually operates to sweep through the desired pattern until stopped at the eleventh step 822 of the method 800.

[0074] FIG. 9 illustrates a flow chart of an embodiment of a method 900 to implement an algorithm of the noise-adaptive solid-state LIDAR system of the present teaching that incorporates smart object detection. Several steps of the method 900 are similar or identical to the method 800 described in connection with FIG. 8. In the first step 902 of the method 900, the system is initialized. In the second step 904 of the method 900, a desired illumination pattern for generating the 3D point cloud is selected by the controller. In the third step 906 of the method 900, the controller selects an individual laser, or group of lasers, to fire based on the desired pattern. The controller then configures the adaptive shutter/mirror to block illumination of the portions of the detector array not needed to measure the reflected transmitted laser pulse in a fourth step 908.

[0075] In the fifth step 910 of the method 900, the LIDAR system fires the laser or group of lasers that have been selected in the third step 906. In the sixth step 912 of the method 900, the LIDAR system receives the fired laser pulses at the controlled detector array and calculates time-of-flight and samples amplitude/time as desired. The system then determines whether pulse averaging is implemented in step seven 914 of the method 900 and loops back to the fifth step 910 of the method 900 until the desired number of pulses have been fired. In step eight 916 of the method 900, after obtaining the desired number of pulses for an individual laser, or groups of lasers, the system applies digital signal processing to manipulate the data in various ways. After processing, the controller stores and/or communicates the data in the ninth step 918 of the method 900.

[0076] In the tenth step 920 of the method 900, a decision to stop or continue the method

900 is made. If the decision is to continue the method 900, the system moves to the eleventh step 922 of the method 900 where a smart object detection and pattern adjust is performed. In this eleventh step 922 of the method 900, the controller has the ability to analyze the 3D point cloud and make decisions to adjust the pattern of the laser firing, as well as the pulse averaging to either address specific rules and/or to optimize the overall performance. For example, one rule could be if the controller determines an object might potentially collide with the vehicle, that the LIDAR system“lock onto” that object and change the pattern of firing and/or the field-of- view in order to increase the refresh rate and/or accuracy of the measurements of that object. In another embodiment, the controller might adjust the amount of pulse averaging, or firing patterns, for each individual laser based on various criteria such as a calculated probability of detection, error rate, distance to objects measured for each laser, and/or environmental conditions. The system then moves to the twelfth step 924 of the method 900 to end the method 900 if a decision to stop is made.

[0077] Solid-state LIDAR system configurations that implement the algorithm of the noise-adaptive solid-state LIDAR system of the present teaching described in connection with FIG. 9 have significant performance advantages compared to known LIDAR system that uses mechanical scanning. For example, some of the mechanical scanners used in known LIDAR systems include rotating motors, MEMS mirrors, and Galvanometers. In mechanical scanning LIDAR systems, it is not possible to arbitrarily measure different points at any time within the field-of-view because the mirror or motor must be physically moved. Consequently, the number of pulses that are able to be used for averaging is significantly constrained when compared to LIDAR systems according to the present teaching, for example. This point is illustrated in connection with FIG. 10.

[0078] FIG. 10 illustrates a table 1000 of operating parameters for a known MEMS based scanning LIDAR system. From the parameters listed in the table 1000, we can determine the capability of the system to implement pulse averaging. For light to travel out and back 150 meters, the time required is one microsecond. Consequently, the maximum rate at which the system can fire pulses and be able to identify without ambiguity the reflection for each pulse is 1 MHz, without taking into account processing overhead. The number of measurement points produced by the system for the stated field-of-view, and angular resolution is 25,000 points per frame. With a 30 Hz refresh rate, the system must be capable of measuring 750K points in one second. [0079] When we compare this required 3D point measurement rate to the speed of light limited 1 MHz maximum pulse rate, we can understand clearly that for such a system, pulse averaging cannot be implemented uniformly, as even two times pulse averaging for all points would require a 1.5 MHz pulse rate, which would reduce the maximum range from l50m to lOOm. Also, since the mirror is always moving, no two points identically overlap, which puts another limitation on pulse averaging. In a LIDAR system configured as described by the table 1000, the time it takes to move from one point to the next adjacent point (0.2°), is equal to 1.3 microsecond. Since we can only fire a pulse every 1.0 microsecond, it follows that averaging multiple pulses also requires significant temporal averaging. By the time a second pulse is fired, the system scanning mechanism has substantially moved already to the next measurement location. An angular rotation of 0.2° at l50m corresponds to 0.5m in absolute distance at that range. Thus, in these known mechanical scanning LIDAR systems, pulse averaging obviously cannot be accomplished at maximum desired distance for slender objects, such as a person.

[0080] In contrast to these know MEMS based scanning LIDAR systems, the LIDAR systems and method of operation according to the present teaching can perform pulse averaging at maximum desired distances and, therefore, the amount of pulse averaging and firing patterns can be varied for each individual laser based on various criteria such as a calculated probability of detection, error rate, distance to objects measured for each laser, and/or environmental conditions.

Equivalents

[0081] While the Applicant’s teaching is described in conjunction with various embodiments, it is not intended that the Applicant’s teaching be limited to such embodiments. On the contrary, the Applicant’s teaching encompasses various alternatives, modifications, and equivalents, as will be appreciated by those of skill in the art, which may be made therein without departing from the spirit and scope of the teaching.