Ultrafast Laser Beam Steering for Autonomous Cars

Laser beam steering.

Researchers at Purdue University and Stanford University have found a novel laser light-sensing technology that is orders of magnitude more sensitive and faster than leading-edge sensor devices. The technology uses a novel concept of optical frequency-arrayed technique that is more robust. (Image: provided)

Researchers at Purdue University and Stanford University believe they have found a novel laser light sensing technology that is more robust and less expensive than currently available, with a wide range of uses, including a way to guide fully autonomous vehicles. The researchers say their innovation is orders of magnitude faster than conventional leading-edge laser beam steering devices that use phased antenna-array technology.

The laser beam steering being tested and used by Purdue and Stanford is based on light-matter interaction between a silicon-based metasurface and short light pulses produced, for example, by a mode-locked laser with a frequency-comb spectrum.

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Such a beam-steering device can scan a large angle of view in nanoseconds or picoseconds compared with the microseconds current technology takes. Amr Shaltout, a post-doctoral research fellow in Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford, who conceived the idea for the method, said:

Laser beam steering is a vital technology that can be used in a wide variety of areas, including navigation, space flights, radar applications, imaging, tag-scanners, robotics, archaeology, mapping, and atmospheric physics. Faster laser scanning is directly related to higher frame rates, as well as improved imaging resolution.

Shaltout came up with the concept while earning his Ph.D. from the Vladimir Shalaev research group at Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and delineated it at Stanford when working with the research group of Mark Brongersma, saying:

The researchers say their innovation is chip-compatible technology that doesn’t require additional sources of energy. It is based on light-matter interaction between metasurfaces and short pulses from mode-locked lasers with equally spaced phased-lock frequency lines.

Another key element is using a metasurface based on patterned silicon film. Brongersma, a professor in Stanford’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said:

Autonomous cars depend on light detection and ranging, or lidar, which is similar to radar, only instead emits infrared or visible light that measures how long it takes for the pulses to reflect back off objects and take their images.

It would replace the spinning device frequently seen atop roofs of autonomous cars. But that existing technology remains expensive as businesses look for ways to transform the burgeoning autonomous car industry.

New laser light sensing technology for laser beam steering.
The second is provided by Amr Shaltout, a post-doctoral research fellow at Stanford University. Here is the cutline: A novel laser light sensing technology would use an optical metasurface and an input ultrafast pulse with a spectrum that consists of a frequency comb, or equally spaced phase-locked frequency lines. The metasurface focuses these frequency components on an array of adjacent locations in space. These focused locations of different frequencies operate as the required frequency-arrayed source, which steers the generated laser beam (red arrow) at a faster speed (Image: provided).

Laser beam steering

Shaltout said the use of photonic metasurfaces was key to the new advancement. He said metasurfaces provide simple, compact, and power-efficient solutions to photonics design. The combination of those two technologies provides a much simpler approach.

In current phased-array optical technology, each antenna needs to be controlled in what it radiates individually. Under Shaltout’s system, each of the structures emits slightly different frequencies, meaning there is no need to address each individual antenna continuously and consume power during that process.

Shaltout said an interdisciplinary solution was the key factor, explaining:

The challenge for the researchers now is to scale up the innovation and move it from the laboratory to the real world. They are looking for investors, partners, or possibly licensing agreements as they work to move forward with scaling up the technology.

The first developments might be in areas such as scanning devices at stores, airports, or in many other areas before moving on to autonomous cars and automobile original equipment manufacturers, Shalaev said:

Provided by: Purdue University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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