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Laser Sensing for Self-Driving Cars, 3-D Video Games

Photonics.com
May 2014
BERKELEY, Calif., May 30, 2014 — Self-driving cars that could detect nearby objects and people. Answering your smartphone by waving a hand from across the room. 3-D video games that could be played literally anywhere. All of this could be possible with a new 3-D laser imaging technology.


This conceptual image shows an integrated 3-D camera with multiple pixels using the FMCW laser source. Courtesy of Behnam Behroozpour, UC Berkeley.


Developed by a team at the University of California, Berkeley, the new technology is able to remotely sense objects across distances up to 30 feet, 10 times farther than with existing low-power laser systems, the researchers said.

“This range covers the size of typical living spaces while avoiding excessive power dissipation and possible eye safety concerns,” said Behnam Behroozpour, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley and one of the researchers.

The new system relies on frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) lidar 3-D imaging technology. Such systems emit frequency-chirped laser light that hits an object and can determine its distance by measuring changes in the light frequency that is reflected back.   


This 3-D schematic shows MEMS-electronic-photonic heterogeneous integration. Courtesy of Niels Quack, UC Berkeley.


Traditional lasers used in high-resolution lidar imaging are typically large, expensive and use a high amount of energy, Behroozpour said.

The researchers were able to reduce the size and power consumption of their system without compromising performance by using a MEMS tunable VCSEL laser.

“Generally, increasing the signal amplitude results in increased power dissipation,” Behroozpour said. “Our solution avoids this tradeoff, thereby retaining the low-power advantage of VCSELs for this application.”

As further development of the technology continues, the researchers plan to integrate the VCSEL, as well as photonics and electronics, into a chip-scale package.

This research will be presented at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in San Jose, Calif., June 11.

For more information, visit www.berkeley.edu.


GLOSSARY
lidar
An acronym of light detection and ranging, describing systems that use a light beam in place of conventional microwave beams for atmospheric monitoring, tracking and detection functions. Ladar, an acronym of laser detection and ranging, uses laser light for detection of speed, altitude, direction and range; it is often called laser radar.
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