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Researchers have found a way to improve LiDAR systems with a new chip-based beam steering technology. This new development promises a smaller system that is more cost-effective with higher performance, according to 

LiDAR, or light detection and ranging, uses laser pulses to acquire 3D information about a scene or object. It is used in a wide range of applications such as autonomous driving, 3D holography, biomedical sensing, free-space optical communications, and virtual reality.

“Optical beam steering is a key technology for LiDAR systems, but conventional mechanical-based beam steering systems are bulky, expensive, sensitive to vibration, and limited in speed,” said research team leader Hao Hu from the Technical University of Denmark. “Although devices known as chip-based optical phased arrays (OPAs) can quickly and precisely steer light in a non-mechanical way, so far, these devices have had poor beam quality and a field of view typically below 100 degrees.”

Hu and co-author Yong Liu describe their new chip-based OPA that solves many of the problems that have plagued OPAs in Optica. They show that the device can eliminate a key optical artifact known as aliasing and achieve beam steering over a large field of view while maintaining high beam quality. This combination could greatly improve lidar systems.

“We believe our results are groundbreaking in the field of optical beam steering,” said Hu. “This development lays the groundwork for OPA-based lidar that is low cost and compact, which would allow lidar to be widely used for a variety of applications such as high-level advanced driver-assistance systems that can assist in driving and parking and increase safety.”

“Our new chip-based OPA shows an unprecedented performance and overcomes the long-standing issues of OPAs by simultaneously achieving aliasing-free 2D beam steering over the entire 180° field of view and high beam quality with a low side lobe level,” stated Hu.

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