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Advanced 3D Imager Made on Millimeter Scale


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With the price of 3D printers coming down, and their capabilities constantly increasing, many believe the time will come when many homes have one. Once in the home, they could be put to use building objects found online and possibly duplicating items around the home. In order to duplicate an object though, an accurate 3D image will have to be made, which has become easier thanks to researchers at Caltech.

Technologies for creating 3D images have existed for decades, but typically require bulky and expensive equipment. What the Caltech researchers have created, however, is just a square millimeter in size, yet still capable of micron resolution. It is known as a nanophotonic coherent imager (NCI) and uses LIDAR to capture 3D information with each pixel. It works by sending out a beam of laser light, which is coherent, and then recording the phase and frequency of the light when it returns. Those properties will shift compared to the original beam, depending on the distance the target object is from the sensor.

By shrinking all of the necessary components onto a silicon chip, the researchers were able to fit 16 of these imagers into an array just 300 microns by 300 microns. While 16 pixels is pretty low, it could be scaled up to hundreds of thousands, and because the imager will still be so small and inexpensive, it could lead to many new uses for the technology.

Source: California Institute of Technology

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