We catch up with Florian Friedl ahead of his session on the automotive lidar market at the upcoming Sensors & IoT Virtual World Week. Friedl is Group Leader for the automotive business at Hamamatsu Photonics Deutschland GmbH, a leader in the optoelectronic field


What are the current priorities for Hamamatsu and its technology development?

Florian Friedl: For the automotive business, single pixel photon counters (SPPC) for Lidar is our current high priority. Lidar sensors are still a hot topic at the moment all over the automotive industry and with these SPPC sensors, the detection range can be enhanced quite a bit. The new arrays we’re developing will have quite high resolution, so there will be better awareness of the environment around the vehicle.

We’re also working on optocouplers for the battery management systems. These can be used for electric cars where you need to separate the battery system from the rest of the car, because you have a high voltage in the battery system and you don’t want to have the noise from this high voltage in the main system of your car.


What advantage does your technology offer compared to the rest of the market?

There are certain optic sensors already in cars, like automatic windscreen wipers, but of course the value of a lidar system is much higher than just the photodiode. There are a couple of different lidar technologies out there, and most companies can only offer sensors or lasers for one of these technologies. Because we have such a broad portfolio – with almost 15,000 different products for all kinds of applications from medical and industrial to automotive – we can cover the laser side and we can also cover the sensor side from one hand.

Automotive customers usually don’t buy a standard product, we’re talking about customised developments for each customer separately, and we can perfectly match the laser array with a sensor array. It doesn’t even have to be an integrated system. Usually there has to be some distance between the laser and sensor modules – we can adjust it to fit them perfectly together.


What advances are you making around lidar technology?

Over the last couple of years, there were a lot of scanning and flash lidars out there, and everybody was developing in this direction with time of flight lidar as the basic principle. Right now, it seems like the interest is going more towards Frequency-Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) lidar. You need a totally different technology for this, and it’s still at the very early stage. The technology readiness level and also the manufacturing readiness level is much lower compared to time of flight lidar at the moment.

(To find out more about different LiDAR concepts, register for Florian’s session at Sensors & IoT Virtual World Week: Advanced Photosensors for Lidar – State of the art and developments on Monday 7 December from 12:30 pm to 1:00 pm CET)


Is road safety for self-driving vehicles a big focus in Hamamatsu’s technology developments?

We think the optics applications in self-driving cars will increase in total, not only for safety applications, but also for what we now regard as consumer applications. For example, if you have TVs or displays in the car – because you now have time to watch TV in the car -then you may need some very simple photo sensors, like photodiodes or RGB sensors to adjust the quality of the display to your surrounding light; this will be the same for other applications like drowsiness detection, to see if the driver is capable of taking over the autonomous car, or if he’s asleep at the moment, or to switch on and off your movie.

With this trend to autonomous driving, we see a lot of applications coming to the cars that are not in them yet, and which will need some optical sensors that are already very common in consumer applications, but not yet in the car.


There’s growing interest in making the auto industry more eco-friendly. How are your products supporting this push?

With our optocouplers for battery systems, this technology can be used at fuel stations for electric cars or hydrogen cars to link the communication from the fuel station to the car to check how full is my battery, how long would it take to charge, how much power do I need to put through.

For combustion engines, the plan is for them to die out by 2030. That means we still have 10 years to go, and so for the next couple of years, it’s still important to keep combustion engines in mind and make them more greener. After the diesel-gate scandal, there is a new trend to control diesel cars, especially with AdBlue liquid to make combustion a bit cleaner, to have less toxic materials coming out. You need to make sure this new material is really in the tank and that the driver is not just putting water in – this is done by optical sensors. So we also have some projects in this direction.


Are you seeing any particular changes in the automotive market driven by the pandemic?

At the beginning of the pandemic, R&D at a lot of companies was paused or halted almost completely. For a couple of months, it was difficult to stay in contact with our customers. My guess is that in a couple of years, there might be a gap of innovation for at least half a year or a year where no new technologies will come to the market because nobody could go to the lab and nobody could do any tests.


What do you expect future trends for your customers to be?

Electric vehicles and autonomous driving will happen sooner rather than later, and this will be a huge change for the whole industry. With this change, we will have a lot more consumer-driven applications within the car, the more autonomously driving the cars are, for example cameras for video conferences, TVs, PCs, notebooks – and everything needs optical sensors.


Click here to register for Florian’s session on Monday, 7th December from 12:30 pm to 1:00 pm CET, where he will be presenting on ‘Advanced Photosensors for Lidar – State of the art and developments’.

Find out about the full Sensors & IoT Virtual World Week here.