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

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.

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