Photonic platform delivers compact beam steering

March 20, 2020 //By Julien Happich
Photonic platform
Removing the need for bulky mechanical assemblies, researchers from the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science are anticipating that more compact and all-solid-state LiDARs could be designed based on a promising new technology, so-called compact optical phased arrays (OPAs) which they managed to implement at very low power.

OPAs change the angle of an optical beam by changing the beam's phase profile. To date, long-range, high-performance OPAs required a large beam emission area densely packed with thousands of actively phase-controlled, power-hungry light-emitting elements, which made them impractical for LiDAR applications.

Packaged large-scale optical phased array for solid-state LiDAR.
Credit: Steven Miller, Columbia Engineering.

Researchers led by Columbia Engineering Professor Michal Lipson have developed a low-power beam steering platform that is a non-mechanical, robust, and scalable approach to beam steering. The team is one of the first to demonstrate low-power large-scale optical phased array at near infrared and the first to demonstrate optical phased array technology on-chip at blue wavelength for autonomous navigation and augmented reality, respectively.

In collaboration with Adam Kepecs' group at Washington University in St. Louis, the team has also developed an implantable photonic chip based on an optical switch array at blue wavelengths for precise optogenetic neural stimulation. The research has been recently published in three separate papers in Optica, Nature Biomedical Engineering, and Optics Letters.

"This new technology that enables our chip-based devices to point the beam anywhere we want opens the door wide for transforming a broad range of areas," explains Lipson, Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering and Professor of Applied Physics. "These include, for instance, the ability to make LiDAR devices as small as a credit card for a self-driving car, or a neural probe that controls micron scale beams to stimulate neurons for optogenetics neuroscience research, or a light delivery method to each individual ion in a system for general quantum manipulations and readout."

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