Much more than a sensor company at SensL

Wade Appelman, VP Sales & Marketing at SensL
Wade Appelman, VP Sales & Marketing at SensL

After welcoming SensL to the AutoSens family in 2017, we’re over the moon to have them on-board again in 2018. We took the opportunity to catch up with Wade Appelman, VP Sales & Marketing at SensL to give us some inside knowledge about the company, its recent launches and current industry motivations.

SensL has been very active in product development surrounding sensors for LiDAR, How do you see the market from the perspective of your customers?

The market for sensors for automotive LiDAR is really starting to ramp up and manufacturers move towards the production phase of their systems. Most car manufacturers and automotive tier 1s are now actively engaged in some form of LiDAR development, but with a range of approaches emerging. The primary system drivers are still the same as we saw a year or so ago, and that is a compact system that can range to 200m, with low reflectivity targets, costing less than $200. This is still proving a challenge in 2017, and we are finding that customers are increasing turning towards SiPM and SPAD sensors to achieve that goal, accepting that it just isn’t technically possible with an APD.

What has been the reaction to the products you announced at AutoSens in Brussels?

There was a lot of interest in our new products. We launched the much anticipated MicroRA series of SiPM sensors. Unlike our previous SiPM sensors that were optimised for detected blue light, these have had their sensitivity shifted significantly towards the NIR. So at 905nm, the wavelength of choice for automotive LiDAR, we now have a far greater photon detection efficiency which of course translates to better sensitivity to the precious few photons that get reflected from distant, low reflectivity targets. Another product which attracted a lot of interest was the ArrayRA 1×16 array. This array uses the same NIR-sensitive process, but formed into a 16-element linear array of small SiPM pixels and is highlighted in our most recent ‘Gen3’ automotive LiDAR demonstrator.

Tell me about the LiDAR Demonstrator. What was the motivation for building it?

Well, let me remind you that we are first and foremost a sensor company, and we have no intention of becoming a LiDAR manufacturer! However, we feel that the education of the market with regards to the benefits of the SiPM and SPAD sensors is critical for us. We have previously developed a LiDAR Matlab model that has been used to study system performance and direct the sensor development, and we have built previous demonstrators to validate this model. Our current ‘Gen3’ LiDAR demonstrator is a little different in that this one is a scanning LiDAR that can-do imaging, whereas our previous systems were single point. This is a big step in terms of providing a powerful demonstration of the capabilities of our products, and will also be used for further validation of our Matlab model.

Gen 3 demonstrator video showing long distance ranging:
SensL animated video on how LiDAR works:

We have seen lots of interest in SPAD arrays for 3D Time of Flight. Does SensL have a roadmap to offer this type of product as well?

SPAD arrays open up some new possibilities for performing LiDAR. SensL is now actively working on SPAD arrays for LiDAR and recently published a paper on the subject at a recent IEEE conference. Our first product will be announced early next year and designed to work in both scanning and flash systems.

LiDAR has been talked about a lot in automotive. What other markets/applications are looking at LiDAR and what are the differences between the requirements in automotive vs. these markets?

There is an increasing interest in LiDAR from a variety of fields such as robotics, drones, industrial warehousing, and for virtual reality. Each application has its own specific requirements, but actually, in many cases, the requirements tend to be a little less stringent than those for automotive. For example, in warehousing you don’t need to worry about such bright ambient light, and in robotics and virtual reality applications, the distances that need to be ranged to are often much shorter.

So how has SensL found the AutoSens events? Why do it again?

We always enjoy the AutoSens events and seeing the progress that is being made in the field of automotive LiDAR. There are many developments in the field now that are allowing the technology to become a practical reality. You really get a sense of this at the meetings. We also enjoy showing our progress that we have made with our LiDAR sensors and demonstrator systems to the market. The feedback that we get from the wide variety of attendees at AutoSens is invaluable, and hopefully they find it useful to engage with us.

How can people learn more about these sensors and their application to LiDAR?

The SensL website hosts a lot of information for learning about our sensors and how they are used in different applications. As well as standard datasheets and user manuals, we have a number of tech notes and white papers that discuss the application of SiPM sensors to LiDAR. These are supported by an animated video that gives a good visual introduction to the same subject, and videos that show our LiDAR demonstrator videos in action. I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to take a look! A great place to start is on our LiDAR application page:

Come and meet SensL at AutoSens in Detroit (14-17 May 2018)