Ommatidia lights the way to mass-market LiDAR

04 July 2024

From a tripod-mounted box instrument to devices that fit in your hand: Spanish-Dutch firm Ommatidia is on a journey to take lidar technology from niche applications to mass markets.

Near Córdoba, Spain, four state-of-the-art lidars are monitoring the structural integrity of a railway bridge. Developed by the Spanish-Dutch outfit Ommatidia, the light-based instruments are capable of detecting the vibrations induced by the passing of high-speed trains. Based on this almost real-time structural health assessment, civil engineers will be able to time and perform maintenance perfectly, not to mention prevent any hidden dangerous defects from going unnoticed.

It’s a good test case for the technology of Ommatidia, allowing the startup to demonstrate that its instrument can handle challenging environments for a long time – the test is scheduled to last three years. The data will help attract customers in the wider application arena of industrial metrology, for which Ommatidia is about to a launch second-generation tool with enhanced capabilities. The ultimate target, however, is to enter high-volume markets such as the automotive market.


Ommatidia’s systems continually send out infrared light and deduce both distance and speed from the reflections that make it back. Because infrared is reflected quite well, a full 3D map of an object can be constructed by mechanically scanning over the object’s surface. For civil engineering, the speed measurements enable visualisation and quantification of vibration modes. “We can produce vibration maps, which can be compared over time. That’s very useful information,” says Grégory Pandraud, VP Research at Ommatidia.

It’s not hard to see how the same technology could be useful in industrial metrology. “You can do in-line inspection in manufacturing, for example, comparing the product with CAD designs,” says Frank van den Heuvel, who recently joined Ommatidia to manage the newly started Industrial Metrology business unit. “Robotics is another excellent market for lidar as a way to perceive the environment or to classify objects.” One business case is vineyards, where robots roam the fields, pruning branches wherever necessary.

Ommatidia is entering these new markets with the about-to-be-launched ANT- series, for which the very heart of the system – the photonic integrated circuit (PIC) – was given a major redesign. “This enabled us to collect 1024 data points at once, compared to 128 for the predecessor. Furthermore, we managed to speed up data acquisition while lowering the footprint and overall system cost,” Pandraud explains. “Compared to what’s currently available commercially, our new sensor is the dream,” adds Van den Heuvel.

Demo kits

The company operating from Madrid and Rijswijk plans to do at least one more redesign cycle that concurrently improves specs and reduces form factors and cost, ultimately ending up with a product that can address high-volume markets. Automotive lidar, for driver-assistance systems and ultimately autonomous driving, is considered to be the holy grail in this context. Pandraud: “We’re going from pretty sizable systems mounted on a tripod to something that can fit in your hands.”

It’s a strategy that’s employed more often in the Dutch photonic chip ecosystem, in which most budding integrated-photonics companies are grappling with the chicken-or-egg problem of having to meet customers’ cost requirements while needing more customers to be able to reduce cost. “We start in niche markets and by pushing cost and specs we expand our addressable markets. Along the way we learn to make the most of our technology by working with customers. And we, as an organisation, learn how to most effectively turn our technology into products that customers really want,” says Van den Heuvel.

Ommatidia is almost ready to climb another rung on the ladder. “We’ll have demo kits in the hands of customers by the end of the year,” Pandraud promises.