Three-dimensional imaging has a number of applications in bio-medicine, nano-particle characterization, security, robotics and gesture recognition. In the past, such systems have been either single pixel detectors or bench-top devices with simple detector arrays.
Now a new 3D imaging chip, developed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology, has been made small enough to fit inside a smartphone and will soon be ready to let consumers take a 3D image of an object with their phone, for later replication with a 3D printer. The data used to construct 3D prints requires the creation of a digital model with height, width and depth information, and until now, a 3D scan of an object was required to create that model.
According to Ali Hajimiri, the Thomas G. Myers Professor of Electrical Engineering in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at Caltech, the technology is based on an inexpensive, tiny and highly accurate device known as a nanophotonic coherent imager, or NCI.
Making use of an inexpensive silicon chip less than a square millimeter across, theses NCIs provide superb depth measurement accuracy, and the silicon photonics are an ideal platform for coherent 3D imaging and projection systems with high resolution and pixel counts.
“Each pixel on the chip is an independent interferometer – an instrument that uses the interference of light waves to make precise measurements – which detects the phase and frequency of the signal in addition to the intensity,” says Hajimiri of the chips.
The new chip uses LIDAR technology which targets an object illuminated with scanning laser beams. As light that reflects off of the object, it’s analyzed based on the wavelength of the laser light used and the LIDAR system is used to gather information about the size and its distance from the laser of an object to create an image of its surroundings.
“By having an array of tiny LIDARs on our coherent imager, we can simultaneously image different parts of an object or a scene without the need for any mechanical movements within the imager,” Hajimiri says. “By coupling, confining, and processing the reflected light in small pipes on a silicon chip, we were able to scale each LIDAR element down to just a couple of hundred microns in size – small enough that we can form an array of 16 of these coherent detectors on an active area of 300 microns by 300 microns.”
The IR wavelengths can be processed efficiently by integrated silicon-on-insulator (SOI) nanophotonic platforms, and the researchers say they have the potential to ultimately be integrated with silicon electronics to create NCIs with a large number of pixels in a small area – and at a very low cost.
Hajimiri and his colleagues have used the device to scan and build a 3D image of the “hills and valleys” impressed on the face of a penny down to micron-level resolution from just half a meter away.
Hajimiri says the current array of 16 pixels will soon be scaled up to hundreds of thousands of pixels and result in vast arrays of LIDARs.
“The small size and high quality of this new chip-based imager will result in significant cost reductions, which will enable thousands new of uses for such systems by incorporating them into personal devices such as smartphones,” he says.
The study, entitled “Nanophotonic Coherent Imager,” was authored by Hajimiri, Firooz Aflatouni, Behrooz Abiri and Angad Rekhi, and it was published in the February issue of Optics Express.
Can you imagine any applications for these tiny, LIDAR-driven chips? Let us know in the Tiny Chip From Caltech forum thread on 3DPB.com.
You May Also Like
Generative Design, Digital Twin, WAAM 3D Printing Used to Optimize Industrial Robot Arm
3D printing specialist MX3D has been working on a metal AM technology to create large items, such as bicycles and bridges, using robots. Now, the Dutch startup has partnered up...
Siemens and CEAD Develop Hybrid 3D Printing Robotic Arm
3D printing with continuous reinforcement fibers, like carbon fiber, is just now starting to come into its own, with numerous startups developing their own unique approaches to the concept. Their...
3D Print the New Youbionic Human Arm at Home or Through a Service
Youbionic, founded in 2015, has recently released its new Human Arm. The wildly creative Italian tech startup is on a mission to accentuate already sophisticated technology around the world, while...
Developing 3D Printed Soft Actuators for Robotic Arms
As 3D printing and electronics continue to advance—along with robotics—soft actuators are becoming a great subject of study, as thesis student Hong Fai Lau outlines in the recently published ‘3D-Printed...
View our broad assortment of in house and third party products.