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Optical sensing applications benefit from VCSEL technology

VCSEL technology is used in a wide range of optical sensors and is suitable for lighting applications in consumer electronics, industry and automotive.

Optical sensors with VCSEL lasers enable advanced 3D detection

Optical sensing is an enabling technology in many optical applications in consumer electronics, industrial sensing and automotive. Optical sensing uses a variety of sensing technologies like time-of-flight (ToF), structured light, and self-mixing interference (SMI). These optical sensing technologies rely on advanced light sources like laser-based VCSEL (Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser) arrays to illuminate a scene or target object.

3D sensing is a demanding application for VCSEL illuminators. Laser capabilities need to be extensive, including features as: ultra-short pulse operation, custom illumination (such as dot patterns), homogeneous scanning, configurable random light source arrays, narrow spectrum to reduce sunlight noise, high reliability, high volume capability and low cost. VCSEL solutions are ideally suited as a light source to support advanced technologies needed for 3D sensing applications using optical sensors.

What is the benefit of using VCSEL laser for optical sensing?

Cutting-edge VCSEL sensing solutions from TRUMPF offer many advantages over conventional technologies such as edge emitting lasers and infrared LEDs:

Low power consumption

Minimal power draw of a few milliwatts optimizes battery use in mobile applications.

Extremely fast pulsing mode

Short rise and fall times enable fast pulsing mode, which is critical for ToF applications.

Easy integration

Various packaging options from SMD to TO packages ensure easy product integration and additional features.

Increased functionality

Additional features in advanced VCSELs, such as integrated micro-optics and photodiodes for further signal processing, support miniaturization and increase sensing functionality.

Customized solutions

With decades of technological leadership, TRUMPF is committed to long-term customer relationships and support for both standard products and customized solutions.

Highly reliable

VCSELs have shown already breakthrough improvements in functionality and highly reliable performance. A long product service life at a wide range of temperatures is reached.

What is optical sensing used for?

Optical sensing using VCSEL lasers, optical sensors and image sensors can be used for sensing in many scenarios, such as for next generation 3D biometric security, industrial measurement and detection applications or autonomous driving and LiDAR, just to name a few.

Industrial Sensing

Industrial sensing applications range from oxygen sensing to industrial optical encoders and atomic clocks, and from speed, distance and depth sensing to proximity sensing. VCSEL technology offers both reliable and high performance sensing solutions for industrial applications.

Consumer Sensing

Consumer Electronics manufacturers are key users of 3D sensing applications. VCSELs deliver powerful illumination capabilities to support advanced optical sensing technologies using sensors and their optical capabilities for detection and scanning of faces for example.

Automotive sensing

In the automotive sector, a growing number of new applications for next generation 3D sensing are emerging for autonomous vehicles with self-driving capabilities, such as LiDAR, driver and occupant monitoring and driver control systems.

How does optical sensing work?

Optical sensing uses a variety of sensing technologies such as time-of-flight, structured light, and self-mixing interference, combined with 3D sensors, which are optical sensors with 3D capabilities. These technologies rely on an advanced light source to illuminate a target scene or object. VCSEL lasers are ideal for the task and used for key optical applications in photonics for modern electronics design.

Different Sensing Technologies

Time of Flight (ToF)

Direct ToF for proximity sensing

Direct Time-of-Flight (dToF) proximity sensing uses an active illumination system. First, a VCSEL diode emits laser light (photons) towards a target. Light is partially reflected by the target and an optical sensor (ToF sensor) determines the time when light (photons) arrives. The dToF is converted into distance by calculating photon travel time/2 x the speed of light. Resolution is 1 mm.

Indirect ToF for depth sensing 

Indirect Time-of-Flight (iToF) does not measure the time delay of a single light pulse, but rather a VCSEL laser emits continuously modulated light, and the phase shift between this emitted light and the reflected light is used to calculate distance (indirectly since it is not based on the delay, but on the phase shift between outgoing and incoming signals). This is called Continuous Wave (CW) Modulation, also known as CW Phase-Shift or iToF.

Structured light

A dot pattern is projected onto a surface. The VCSEL laser light thus illuminates a target scene, enabling a sensor to capture the observed distortion and convert it into information about the third dimension of the illuminated object. This achieves extremely high accuracy, which is required for a sensor to support optical applications such as facial recognition.

Self-mixing interference (SMI)

A single point of light is projected onto an object by a VCSEL. The object scatters the light back into the laser and interferes depending on the phase. The laser power is modulated by the feedback from the object. The modulated laser power is measured by the integrated photodiode. A modulated laser current can be used for simultaneous distance and velocity measurement.

A ViP, or VCSEL with integrated photodiode, is a key tool for SMI technology.

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