The U.S Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Ohio, has awarded $8.2 million in funding to California-based JASR Systems. The grant will be used to develop chip-sized optical phased arrays and LiDAR scanning systems.
JASR Systems was founded in 2018 by Jinendra Ranka, Kyle Watson, and Brett Spivey, specialists in optical communications technologies. The company develops sensing technologies and autonomous navigation systems, such as phased array LiDAR and millimeter-wave radar and microwave systems.
From inches to millimeters
As previously reported the U.S. Department of Defense and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have also leveraged 3D printing technologies for various applications. Furthermore, in recent times, 3D printing has enabled miniaturization of bulky electronics and scanning systems which has opened up new possibilities for communication and sensing systems.
For the latest project, looking at scanning rather than 3D printing, the JASR Systems will use the Modular Optical Aperture Building Blocks (MOABB) technology developed at DARPA to produce chip-sized LiDAR, a laser and radar system for mapping surroundings in 3D. Traditional LiDARs are bulky, as it is made of at least five components: laser, scanners and optics, photosensors and receiver electronics, navigational systems, and sensors.
Modular Optical Aperture Building Blocks
The MOABB project began in 2015, as a three-phase program. At the time of initiation, the MOABB program was expected to last for five years, with funding going up to $58 million.
The purpose of the MOABB is to develop free-space optical communication (FSO) equipment small enough that it can be installed on any device ranging from a UAV to smartphone. A free-space optical communication (FSO) uses light to communicate in contrast to a physically wired network of fiber optics cables. FSO systems are formed of telescopes, lasers, detectors, and electronics, therefore, they tend to be substantial in size.
If the MOABB project is successful, FSO equipment will be 100 times smaller and lighter than conventionally-made FSO systems. The size of the FSO will be reduced to the size of an electronics wafer that can be powered using only 100 watts of energy.
Technology companies involved in the MOABB project are Lockheed Martin-owned modem manufacturer Coherent Technologies, optics specialist TREX Enterprises Corp, Analog Photonics, a photonic circuits manufacturer, and California-based imaging systems manufacturer Teledyne Scientific & Imaging.
With the help of insights developed under the phase 1 of the MOABB project, JASR Systems will build LiDAR scanners that are smaller than a phone camera and have a range up to 100 meters.
The project is expected to be completed by November 1, 2020.
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Featured image shows an example of a LiDAR-scanned landscape. Image via Military & Aerospace Electronics.