Technology to Shrink Those Awkward, Ugly Sensors

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Sensors for self-driving cars and autonomous driving systems are about to get a lot smaller and more attractive thanks to some clever headlight technology.

  • Many fully self-driving prototypes rely on bulky sensors mounted on the sides and roof of the vehicle.
  • Relatively large Lidar sensors in particular have commanded plenty of acreage on these self-driving vehicles.
  • Lidar is an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging.
  • SiLC Technologies and Varroc Lighting Systems have joined forces to create a Lidar system small enough to be embedded within an LED headlight.

Self-drive vehicles sound futuristic, but many of today’s prototypes look like science projects dating back to the 1950s. That’s because fully self-drive vehicles rely on a vast range of sensors mounted onto their exterior. Taking away these sensors would be like driving down a highway while blindfolded.

Lidar technology is an integral part of helping a car “see” its way down the road. By emitting short bursts of laser light, a Lidar system tracks the reflected light using sensors within it. This paints a picture of the environment, with results that are extremely accurate. The problem is, scaling this technology down is not a simple job.

SiLC Technologies and Varroc Lighting Systems have collaborated to create a Lidar sensor small enough to be fitted within a modern LED headlight. Instead of mounting a bulky sensor onto the roof or fenders, the Lidar system is seamlessly integrated into the vehicle’s overall design.

Waymo Jaguar I-PaceUntil now, self-driving vehicles have used large and bulky sensors to navigate their way down the road. The Lidar unit on the roof of this Jaguar I-Pace bears a resemblance to an old-fashioned cop car light. (Photo: Waymo)

“We believe automotive lamps provide the optimum integration point for sensors at the four corners of the vehicle…we are providing a glimpse into the future of automotive navigation combined with aesthetic design,” said Todd Morgan, Senior Vice President of Product Development for Varroc Lighting Systems.

This allows a vehicle to accurately use Lidar scanning for objects in all directions, without needing to position the Lidar sensors directly in the middle of the car (most commonly on the roof of many self-drive prototypes). SiLC Technologies’ latest Lidar tech – called the 4D+ Vision Chip – allows the vehicle to scan objects up to 200 meters away. That’s the equivalent of 218 yards, or slightly more than two entire football fields down the road.


Smaller and smarter sensors are going to be the backbone of self-driving cars. Fully autonomous vehicles still rely on lots of tacked-on and ungainly-looking technology, but these systems are shrinking and becoming less conspicuous.

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