The new iPhones 12 Pro and Pro Max will hit the market with a lot of innovations. Among them, LiDAR technology. What is it, why does the iPhone need it, and why did Elon Musk turn it down?
LiDAR is a scanner that uses laser sensors to measure distance to objects and create a mapa 3D from the surroundings. In theory, it fits perfectly with the idea of smart cars that move without a driver, one of the main projects of Elon Musk and his company Tesla. However, the founder of SpaceX also rejects it, while Apple has included it in the new iPhone 12, where its use is not so justified.
How LiDAR works and what is used for
As said, it is a scanner that uses the laser rays. It allows obtaining and structuring information about the objects around it. It measures several parameters: the distance to the object, its length, height and dimension and also the temperature.
Its operation recalls the echolocation: emits infrared and ultraviolet signals that are reflected from the object and return the necessary information. It is capable of building 3D models of physical objects, which is used today in construction and cartography.
The first LiDARs were used for military purposes to monitor enemy satellites. Then they discovered their map making skills. To do this, a LiDAR is placed on an airplane that flies over the chosen location. The scanner provides extensive information on what is on land and underwater. This is achieved thanks to the rays that are emitted in a wide spectrum of light.
However, where it is most used is in construction to create 3D models of buildings or rooms that later serve in interior or exterior design.
In NASA projects for lunar exploration, LiDAR is part of the experimental lander. This module would ensure that the spacecraft landed on the Moon with 100 meters of precision, which was previously considered impossible. The first trials were carried out successfully October 14.
Why have they put it in the iPhone 12
It is not the first attempt by the smartphone industry to adopt LiDAR. Previously it was used mainly in the front camera for the function of the facial recognition. Is that the radar can distinguish objects when there is almost no light, which for cameras based simply on artificial vision is an impossible task.
But in the iPhone 12 LiDAR sensors are installed in the main camera to improve the quality of the photos: depending on the distance to the object, the focus of the lens changes: the images become clearer and more saturated.
For Apple it is another step towards augmented reality. During the presentation in Cupertino, Snapchat company announced a new version of the Lens Studio application, designed especially for future owners of the Pro and Pro Max.
Will have new augmented reality glasses that will allow adding 3D effects, objects, characters and transformations to the video in real time, using the camera of the smartphone.
LiDAR in the Automotive Industry and Elon Musk Rejection
Automakers are also studying how the technology can be implemented in their products. In automatic or partially automated vehicles, LiDAR can be used to help improve accuracy in autonomous driving decisions, says the portal The Drive.
The radar would complement artificial vision systems by offering the program a greater layer of data than what is happening around it. For example, when it is too dark for a camera to capture certain objects, the LiDAR unit can still recognize objects on the road.
The pioneers in this regard are the engineers of the German automaker Audi. Your model Audi A8 In 2019 it received a suite of automated driver assistance systems: multiple 360-degree cameras, mid- and long-range radar, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and a LiDAR scanner.
A good example of the usefulness of LiDAR is the fatal accident involving a partially automated Uber vehicle and a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The unit detected the presence of the pedestrian 6 seconds before the accident. However, the data processing system did not consider it necessary to emergency braking to avoid the collision.
In turn, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk insists that LiDAR is nothing more than a crutch for companies that cannot learn to use machine learning to process data from a camera.
For Musk, whose Tesla they rule the market of partially automatic cars, LiDAR appears to be an extremely expensive and useless.
“Anyone who relies on LiDAR is doomed. They are expensive and unnecessary sensors. It’s like having a lot of expensive appendages. Something like: an appendix is bad, well, now you have a lot of them. It’s ridiculous,” the entrepreneur opined in a Tesla event in 2019.
Either way, you will have time to maybe change your mind as machine learning and LiDAR sensors could be a perfect mix for the next generation of fully self-driving Tesla vehicles.