Who Invented Lidar Technology?

Many people are curious about LiDAR and what changes it will bring into the world of automobiles. Most of the automobile experts suggest that there is going to be a huge “LiDAR Boom” considering the wide applications of the technology.

However, before we continue to the inventor of LiDAR technology, let us first talk about LiDAR itself. 

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR stands for light detectors and ranging sensors that we use in cars. The technology helps detect the environment with a non-harming, non-visible ray. This light can detect, measure and visualize objects at a distance. The technology can also help create a 3D image around the environment of the vehicle. 

There are different ways to understand the mechanism of LiDAR technology but it can get a little complicated. It involves several chips that send out signals, control, and record cars. For example, the LiDAR system may use a sensor fusion that uses collected data from these multiple chips to enhance the performance of the system as a whole. 

Who Invented LiDAR?

Hughes Aircraft Company was the first company to introduce LiDAR like a system as early as 1961. This was shortly after the invention of the laser and was first developed for satellite tracking. The technology combined with laser-focused imaging could calculate distances.

It used the time taken for a sensor to send a signal and then receive it back. The first system COLIDAR (coherent light detecting and ranging) is still considered the advent of the LiDAR technology. However, this system was not as efficient and has gone through several changes through the years. 

Modern LiDAR Technology

Today, the latest LiDAR systems are much more compact and efficient, which allows automobile enthusiasts to include the technology in autonomous vehicles. However, all this credit goes to Dave Hall. 

Velodyne’s founder Dave Hall was the first person to invent 3D printed LiDAR that gives out a vision to autonomous vehicles in real-time. He also competed in the DARPA Grand Challenge for autonomous vehicles and continued to perfect the technology over time. He has over 30,000 patents to his name.

He is still considered a major pioneer in the self-driving industry as he has worked at perfecting the system since completing his original entrants in the DARPA Great Challenge. He invented the 3D printer LiDAR system back in 2005, which allowed vehicles to have a 360-view of their environment.

Dave used this breakthrough to set up his own company, which is still considered a leader in the autonomous vehicle industry. He still leads a dream team of engineers that work on amazing projects. The founder also has revolutionary ideas that give his company an edge over the rest of the industry. 

Advancements from pioneers like him have helped various other types of LiDAR technologies. Let us discuss them.

Types of LiDAR

There are primarily three kinds of LiDAR technology variations that you can find in the industry. These are as follows:

  • Mechanical
  • MEMs 
  • Solid-state

Each of these technologies has its specific price, size, detection capability, and durability. Therefore, the functions of each of these LiDAR types will also differ. Following is a summary of these types of LiDAR that you should know. 

Mechanical LiDAR

Mechanical scanning LiDARs require rotating turrets and mirrors that move the laser beam across a field. These LiDARs are usually on top of the vehicles for the best range and accuracy. They have a spinning can type look in most cases. These are larger and more expensive as compared to the LiDAR technology options. 


The word MEM means microelectromechanical mirrors, which are a smaller and cheaper alternative than the other LiDAR systems. In this mechanism, the laser fires into a small area with a mirror in it. 

The mirror rotates on various axes as compared to the rigid LiDAR systems. Most experts suggest that the application of these MEM LiDARs will help with level 3 and level 4 autonomous vehicles. 

Solid-State LiDARs

The solid-state LiDARs do not have any moving parts and stay in one place. This makes the mechanism less harmed by bumps and movement, as well as vibrations. The system in this kind of LiDAR consists primarily of a silicon chip. However, there is a drawback to this kind of LiDAR system i.e. the lack of movement and range. 

Experts believe that the technology can still do wonders if it continues to grow and meets the ASIL standards (Automotive Safety Integrity Level). However, that may not happen any time soon. Most of the automated vehicle experts believe that it may occur somewhere around 2028 to 2030. 

What Can You Expect From Lidar In The Future?

We have already discussed some basic applications of the LiDAR system and how it may help in several scenarios. However, LiDAR technology must pair with artificial intelligence, hardware, and software.

A good LiDAR system needs to have a system that is supported by a chain of different mechanisms. It is most likely why leading automated vehicle companies like Tesla use systems in-house for maximum control and optimization. 

There are several issues with the technology that need ironing out. Other companies like Waymo are also following the same approach to maximize output and efficiency out of the technology. 

For now, the biggest hurdle is integrating the data from the LiDAR technology into other forms of data available in the industry. 

Bottom Line

Leading pioneers like Dave Hall deserve all the praise in the world for their tremendous work in the industry. They have helped improve the LiDAR technology greatly and are still working to improve its working for maximum applications.

Today, there are 3 types of LiDAR technologies that you can choose from. However, more work and technological advancement are important to see the true application of LiDAR technology. The current advancements have already provided us with inexpensive and reliable LiDAR technology.

Several LiDARs now come with eye-safety short wave infrared light (SWIR) region, (~1.5 μm and beyond).