The technology could further be used to make smaller and cheaper 3D imaging systems to be used for self-driving cars to spot a child in the street half a block away, smart phones and interactive video games - without the need for bulky boxes of electronics or optics.

"The new sweet spot for emerging consumer and robotics applications is around 10 metres or just over 30 feet," said Behnam Behroozpour from UC Berkeley."This range covers the size of typical living spaces while avoiding excessive power dissipation and possible eye safety concerns," he added

The new system relies on LIDAR ("light radar"), a 3-D imaging technology that uses light to provide feedback about the world around it. LIDAR systems of this type emit laser light that hits an object, and then can tell how far away that object is by measuring changes in the light frequency that is reflected back.
    
It can be used to help self-driving cars avoid obstacles halfway down the street, or to help video games tell when you are jumping, pumping your fists or swinging a racket at an imaginary tennis ball across an imaginary court. In contrast, current lasers used in high-resolution LIDAR imaging can be large, power-hungry and expensive.
    
"While meter-level operating distance is adequate for many traditional metrology instruments, the sweet spot for emerging consumer and robotics applications is around 10 meters," said Behnam Behroozpour from the University of California, Berkeley.

Gaming systems require big, bulky boxes of equipment, and you have to stand within a few feet of the system for them to work properly, Behroozpour said.
    
Bulkiness is also a problem for driverless cars such as Google's, which must carry a large 3-D camera on its roof.
    
The researchers sought to shrink the size and power consumption of the LIDAR systems without compromising their performance in terms of distance.

The team used a type of LIDAR called frequency-modulated continuous-wave (FMCW) LIDAR, which they felt would ensure their imager had good resolution with lower power consumption, Behroozpour said.
    
This type of system emits "frequency-chirped" laser light (that is, whose frequency is either increasing or decreasing) on an object and then measures changes in the light frequency that is reflected back.

To avoid the drawbacks of size, power and cost, the team exploited a class of lasers called MEMS tunable VCSELs.

MEMS (micro-electrical-mechanical system) parts are tiny micro-scale machines that, in this case, can help to change the frequency of the laser light for the chirping, while
VCSELs (vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers) are a type of inexpensive integrable semiconductor lasers with low power consumption.

(JPN/Agencies)

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