b'27movement units had hit the market, making commercial lidar for F I N G E R Smapping viable for the first time. In the mid-90s, the first lidar systems for topographic mapping purposes were released. O N T H EBy the time PLI started exploring Geiger-mode lidar sensors in the mid-2010s, a handful of lidar competitors were already P U L S E yielding impressive results in the autonomous driving space, one of which famously created effective shorter-range lidar sensors that were used by many competitors in DARPAs Urban Chal-lenge in 2007 by combining existing silicon sensors with short-A skunkworks team in a New Jersey office parkrange lasers. These systems helped self-driving research vehicles meets the future with laser precision. navigate the urban environments created for the competition.But PLI had another advantage that their competitors lacked: they managed all of the design and characterization of their de-tector and laser chip technology in-house rather than procuring them from other manufacturers. By building their own detec-tors,PLIcouldmakethemwithcompoundsemiconductors, which, although pricier and more difficult to manufacture than Withoutlidar,Argo AI believes, there is no safe form ofsilicon-based detectors, are compatible with longer-wavelength self-driving. Lidar is a remote-sensing technology that emits aphotons. (Most commercial sensors operated in the 900 nano-pulse of light, then measures the time for the pulse to reflect offmeter range; PLIs operated in the 1,400 to 1,600 nanometer of an object and travel back to a sensor. Put dozens of pulsedrange.) By virtue of being safer for the human eye, longer-wave-laser beams together and spin them around, collect the data, andlength photons can be exploited to develop lidar technology with you can create a precise, three-dimensional representation of thegreater range. Vehicles equipped with the system could see far-lidar sensors surroundings. Combined with radar and cameras,ther, which meant they could operate safely at higher speeds, the lidar provides self-driving systems with a 360-degree 3D view ofkey to a safe SDS. their environment.Initially, Itzler and his team surveyed the competitive land-Since 2017, Argo has worked to develop a new lidar sensor thatscape of potential buyers and landed in the sky. They secured a tracks objects from farther distances than other commerciallycontract with the U.S. military to equip jet aircraftlong in need Hardware engineer Jennyavailableautomotivelidarsensors.Thisinnovationiscriticalof 3D mapping tools that offered greater resolution and precision Wang fine-tunes an Argoin ensuring that the Argo self-driving system (SDS) can operatethan radarwith their new, longer-range lidar technology. And, Lidar sensor head in the labsafely, particularly when moving at the higher speeds requiredfor a time, the partnership stuck.in Cranbury.for highway driving. So it may surprise some to learn that theBut fairly quickly, Itzler realized that the market for military technology underlying Argos lidar wasnt created for self-drivingaircraft lidar had measurable limits; the fleet of U.S. military jets at all. It was developed for data encryption for telecommunica- only numbered in the thousands. If they wanted adoption of tions companies.their technology at scale, PLI needed a partner that could help It all began in the early 2000s in a nondescript gray-brickthem reach a mass market. building inside an office park in Cranbury, New Jersey. The build- Ultimately, PLI saw in Argo AI a potential partner with the ing, just off U.S. Route 130 and a 25-minute drive from Princetonvision,productoffering,andresourcestosuccessfullyimple-University, served as headquarters for Princeton Lightwave Incment PLIs long-range lidar technology and ultimately achieve (PLI). There, a team of technical researchers worked feverishlytrue SAE Level 4-capable autonomy. So, in 2017, PLI agreed to an to revolutionize the telecommunications industry by developingacquisition by Argo. breakthrough quantum communication technology. Their inno- Today, Argo is testing PLI-pioneered lidar technology on-ve-vation: a new photon detector capable of sensing single photonshicle,combiningitwithexistingshort-rangelidarsensorsto in the short-wave infrared wavelength range. This technologydevelop a system that will yield comprehensive 3D imaging ca-enabled a new generation of data encryption that exploited thepabilities. Argo Lidar will result in a significant improvement in quantum properties of single photons to create theoretically un- long-range sensing capability that facilitates self-driving system breakable encryption protocols. enhancements such as highway operating speeds. However, by the late 2000s, it was clear that the commer- The Argo Lidar team continues to work out of the same cial application of quantum communications was not taking offgray office building in Cranbury. Although the name above the any time soon, and Mark Itzler, PLIs chief technology officer,entryway may have changed, the team maintains the same realized that it was time for the company to explore somethingdedication to innovation that originally attracted them to the new. Fortunately, he realized that their single-photon detectorfield of engineering. And before long, the sensing technology technology could be applied to other fieldsnamely, imaging.they created for telecom might ultimately revolutionize the As a nod to Geiger counters, which measure a single radioac- automotive industry.tive particle at a time, they dubbed this single-photon detection method Geiger mode. A newly established skunkworks team set to work on the technology, and PLIs new Geiger-mode lidar division was born. Of course, at the time, lidar itself was nothing new. After the invention of the laser in the 1960s, NASA started exploring how the technology could be used to track lunar and satellite distanc-es. By the 1980s, the first commercial GPS systems and inertial FullBook_Mar24.indb 27 4/25/21 6:41 PM'