AEye Team Profile: Umar Piracha

AEye’s very own Umar Piracha will be chairing the Optical Technologies for Autonomous Cars and Mobility symposium at CLEO 2020 in San Jose this spring.

Umar PirachaUmar Piracha is a Staff LiDAR Systems Engineer at AEye. He has a Masters from the University of Southern California and a PhD from the College of Optics (CREOL) at the University of Central Florida, where he developed a LiDAR system using a mode locked laser for high resolution ranging at tens of kilometers of distances. He has experience working for large and small companies, including Intel, Imec, and Luminar Technologies, and has successfully co-founded a fiber sensing startup. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE, Associate Editor for SPIE’s Optical Engineering Journal, and serves as a reviewer for NSF’s SBIR program. Dr. Piracha has 32 conference and journal publications and 3 patents.

We sat down with Umar to discuss chairing a session at CLEO 2020, why LiDAR is critical for autonomous vehicle perception, and why he’s known around town as “Dr. Laser”.

Q: Congratulations on being named Chair of Optical Technologies for Autonomous Cars and Mobility at CLEO 2020! Can you tell us a bit about what this role entails?

Thank you! It will be a very rewarding and fun experience. As Chair, I’ll review the latest results from different research groups in academia and industry around the world and select the ones that are making the most impact in the field of self-driving cars. These research groups will then have the opportunity to present their results to an audience of technical leaders from around the world during my session at CLEO.

Q: Why is LiDAR so imperative to the overall safety and reliability of artificial perception systems for self-driving cars?

LiDAR is enabling self-driving cars to become a reality by ensuring that they drive with the least amount of risk to other drivers or those around it. Humans are emotional, can be easily distracted, and are prone to mistakes. However, the human visual cortex is the most advanced perception engine on the planet. Since the processing and perceptive power of the human visual cortex and brain is far beyond the fastest supercomputer in the world, it is not an easy task to safely replace human drivers with automation and artificial intelligence. Therefore, the inclusion of LiDAR is necessary for autonomous vehicles because it reduces the burden of real-time perception and prediction, which is not possible using AI and stereo-cameras alone. The reality is: multiple sensors, including LiDAR, radar, cameras, etc., coupled with advanced data processing and AI will be required to make self-driving cars safe and reliable.

Q: You’re known around town as “Dr. Laser.” Care to elaborate on that nickname?

I used to teach at CREOL (The University of Central Florida) as an Adjunct Instructor, where my students would call me Dr. Umar. But since I love lasers, when I purchased my new car, I wanted to get a fun license plate to go with it, so I got one that says “Dr. Laser”. I think it’s very appropriate since I love cars – and lasers too.

Q: You used to do standup comedy!  How would you describe your act? Who are a few of your favorite comedians?

After getting a double Masters degree, a PhD in Lasers, and the nickname of “Dr. Laser”, I wanted to involve myself in something totally opposite of all that! So I took improv and stand-up comedy classes and performed a few times in Orlando. Unlike most stand up comics, I always made sure my humor was suitable for all audiences. Personally, I think Maz Jobrani is an extremely hilarious comic!