3D Sensing: The Next Disruptive Technology

The successes of 3D gaming systems, like the popular Kinect by Microsoft, have shown the market viability of 3D sensing technology. However, just like any disruptive technology, the first application to which it is applied, gesture recognition, is just that: only the first application. There are still many other possible uses of 3D sensing technology unthought-of that can completely redefine industries and create tremendous market opportunity.

Learn more about 3D sensing through its use in gesture recognition applications.

Consider the evolution of the digital camera. Remember learning for the first time that a camera was introduced into a mobile device? It certainly hasn’t taken long for the camera to become as much a part of what we consider a mobile phone as a touchscreen. In addition, the combination of camera and phone has enabled completely new use cases beyond what was ever possible with a device that was just a camera. For example, today you can SMS (text message) an HD image to your spouse confirming that you’re buying the right item or use the phone’s camera and GPS coordinates to give you a quick visual indication of all the restaurants in your immediate area and their Yelp ratings. The truth is today, a phone without a camera simply isn’t a phone.

By adding the third dimension to systems, 3D sensing provides a foundation of supplemental technology that will extend the capabilities of mobile devices well past their current limitations. The ability to sense where the user or an object is in relation to the mobile device, to capture depth, dimension, and space, enables a whole new range of applications and ways to interact with one’s phone or tablet, just the way the digital camera has revolutionized the way we communicate, share information and navigate our world.

The challenge, like any disruptive technology, is that while 3D sensing is still emerging, it is too early to tell exactly how it is going to change our world. In addition, 3D sensing technology continues to evolve as well. Sensing technology using more sophisticated laser-imaging systems, such as those using our vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) is now available. These new 3D sensing systems are more accurate, smaller, lower-power, and less susceptible to errors than the first generation based on LEDs and edge emitting lasers.

What is a VCSEL?

The market is already beginning to embrace 3D sensing technology across industries. Companies who embrace 3D sensing early will likely become the leaders that define the future of this technology.

I am interested in any comments or questions you may have regarding this topic.

Check back soon for my next post “Technology Is No Longer An Island”.

VCSELs for Next-Generation Atomic Sensors

This week’s blog post is provided by Pritha Khurana, Product Line Manager, Active Components

A new generation of small low-power atomic sensors, including clocks and magnetometers, are being developed based on MEMS and VCSEL technologies. VCSELs are emerging as the preferred optical source for these sensors given their ability to provide coherent and consistent output at low power over years of continuous operation. Several factors are driving the adoption of VCSELs for these types of sensors, including:

Lower Power and Smaller Size: An all-optical atomic clock based on a modulated VCSEL eliminates the need for an RF cavity, enabling a substantial reduction in size and power consumption while meeting atomic frequency standards. In the case of atomic magnetometers, the benefits are dramatic as well: replacing traditional gas discharge lamp light sources with a VCSEL optical source reduces sensor power consumption by over 50%, or more than 5 W. In addition, the use of smaller vapor cells can lower power consumption by another two orders of magnitude.

Commercial Viability: Two applications, in particular, are driving demand for VCSELs in atomic sensors— 1) atomic clocks because of the high volumes in which they are used and 2) atomic magnetometers because the requirement for high precision supports greater cost margins.

Mass Production: VCSELs are manufactured and tested at wafer level allowing for easier integration and high volume manufacturing. The simpler geometry of the VCSEL beam lends itself to ease of packaging allowing for use of mass production processes and potential wafer level integration.

Simplified Precision: The ability to produce a single linearly polarized circular light beam make VCSELs especially well-suited for atomic sensors. In a VCSEL-based atomic clock, a microwave source is used to lock the VCSEL to a frequency of 4.6 GHz. The VCSEL is then modulated to generate two frequencies whose difference is 9.2 GHz, the exact cesium resonance frequency used to define the time unit of one second. For a VCSEL-based atomic clock based on rubidium, the microwave source locks the VCSEL to 3.4 GHz to generate the rubidium resonance frequency of 6.8 GHz.

The same principles and components are used to create an atomic magnetometer, with the difference that no microwave modulation of the VCSEL is required since the system can be made to self-oscillate at the required frequency. This oscillation is directly proportional to the magnetic field to be sensed.

New Applications: Finally, each of these factors enabled through VCSEL technology – substantially lower power, smaller size, commercial viability, mass production, and simplified precision – are making it possible to introduce precision atomic sensing into an ever-widening variety of exciting new applications.

For more information about the history of VCSEL technology and its role in emerging applications, visit: www.myvcsel.com.

Emerging Applications in VCSEL Technology

This week’s blog post comes from Craig Thompson, Finisar.

Accurate timing is a crucial element in many applications, such as in high-speed networks and GPS (Global Positioning Systems). Imagine following your GPS to an unknown destination and the device tells you to prepare to make a left turn. What if the left turn is 500 feet before a dangerous ravine and the calm voice instructing you is 10 seconds too slow…

Fortunately in today’s modern era, atomic clocks–based on either cesium or rubidium –provide the careful precision required for these types of applications. That said, the size and cost of the traditional atomic clocks limit their use.

A new generation of atomic sensors, enabled by the narrow line width, low power, and long-term parametric stability and reliability of VCSELs will enable a variety of emerging applications. For example, Chip Scale Atomic Clocks (CSAC), already available, increases the portability of this technology, making it possible to integrate accurate timing as a local resource.

Consider locations where GPS signals are delayed or impaired, for example in the dense wilderness or vast desert; it can take minutes for devices to receive timing information from remote satellites. Alternatively, devices with a local VCSEL-based atomic clock could quickly and accurately lock position, thus improving responsiveness and productivity.

As the cost of mass-producing chip scale atomic clocks continues to drop with advances in technology, VCSEL-based clocks could even begin to replace ovenized crystal oscillators in applications requiring precision timing. As a core technology in high-speed communications systems, VCSELs are already produced in sufficient volumes to facilitate this migration.

Interestingly, the same components and principles used to build an atomic clock can also be used in the highly precise detection of magnetic fields. By increasing the sensitivity and range of magnetic sensors in this way, wholly new applications can be realized. Consider the possibilities when metal can be detected at greater distances through different materials, such as objects buried underground or lost in deep water.

While VCSEL technology has reached a high level of maturity, we have only just begun to explore its possible applications, for example, in 3D cameras and gesture recognition gaming. With its high power efficiency, high reliability, and small foot print to enable more compact systems, VCSELs are clearly an important foundation of our future.

For more information about VCSEL technology and other applications such as gesture recognition and 3D sensing, visit our microsite: www.myvcsel.com

25 years in Optics, 150 million VCSELs and Counting…

Today’s blog post comes from Craig Thompson, Director, Strategic Marketing at Finisar.

Happy 25th Anniversary Finisar!

Finisar reached two significant milestones recently. Last month, the company celebrated its 25th anniversary and the shipment of its 150 millionth VCSEL. I was fascinated to hear the stories of the company’s founding and early years from our co-founders, Jerry Rawls and Frank Levinson. The focus is and always was on serving the customer, being profitable and being respectful to employees. From the early days of building a scuba diving computer (a good example of customer focus!) to today’s optical transceivers with microcontrollers (the grandchildren of that dive computer), the focus hasn’t changed. We continue to serve our customers as best we can, in the most fiscally responsible way, while delivering the industry’s most innovative optical products. But, of course, first and foremost are the people behind the company. I’ve been here barely a year now and already feel part of the family.

Finisar’s shipment of its 150 millionth Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) is particularly exciting for me. This is highly significant for a few reasons. First, there is no other technology quite as prolific in optical communications as the VCSEL. Second, the technology has really only been around for 15 years and only deployed in significant quantities for just over 10 years. It’s amazing to me what has been achieved in our industry in this short amount of time. VCSELs have enabled the optical interconnect market that we know today, but are still a highly underrated technology that doesn’t get quite the attention and recognition it deserves.

I think of VCSELs as the Rodney Dangerfield of laser technologies – “I don’t get no respect!”. Largely the technology has suffered from ill-informed perception, rather than reality, of just ‘good enough’ performance and reliability. Paired with multimode fiber, VCSELs did a great job of going short-distances, but no one was ever satisfied. Every man and his dog has had a solution for replacing VCSELs or coping with their short-comings, but in the end they have served us extremely well covering the vast majority of enterprise, campus and data center optical links. Tens of millions of VCSELs are manufactured each year for the optical communications market at ever-improving yields, costs and reliability. That’s not to mention the hundreds of millions of VCSELs that have been made for other applications, such as optical mice, printing, sensing and now gesture recognition (more on that in a later blog). No other coherent optical source comes close to the importance and success of VCSELs. And it’s that solid foundation of volume, infrastructure and know-how that will ensure VCSELs remain the leading laser solution for optical communications for some time to come.

If you interested in continuing this discussion, please comment to this post or contact me at MyVCSEL@finisar.com.