Exciting start-ups at LASER 2019

Curved CMOS-Sensor with fish eye function

In their search for lucrative market niches, the entrants for the 2019 Start-up Award are turning to imaging and 3D imaging, fiber-optic systems, and ultrashort pulse technology.

Among the teams that have submitted entries for the 2019 Startup Award, KTW Technology is one of the less typical ones. It aims to replace the expensive electron beam welding systems that are normally used in high vacuum welding with laser welding systems. The advantage is there is no need for demagnetization or shielding of potential X-radiation. KTW also welds in a true high vacuum at 0.00005 mbar instead of the usual 0.003 mbar. Consequently, less expensive technology ensures higher quality.

Focus on fiber and ultrashort pulse lasers

Other teams see their future in developing ultrashort pulse (USP) and fiber lasers. For example, Futonics Laser has developed a thulium fiber laser for the mid-infrared range around 2 µm, which is especially suitable for welding, marking, and cutting plastics that are very transparent in the visible and near-infrared ranges. But they absorb mid-infrared radiation very well. Menhir Photonics from Basel, Switzerland, has developed a turnkey all-in-one femtosecond laser, which works with a 1550 nm wavelength and repetition rates in the GHz range—and, according to Menhir, has by far the lowest phase noise and highest temperature resistance on the market. VALO Innovations is also in the running with an easy-to-operate turnkey femto laser. The fiber laser system has pulse widths of less than 50 fs with more than 100 nJ energy and is aimed at multiphoton applications and nanomaterial processing.

For the picosecond range Photonics Laboratories OOO from Minsk, Belarus has developed a robust laser system, where the seed oscillator is repaced with a sole microchip crystal. The team promises a long service life thanks to pulse-on-demand operation. The laser provides chip-related pulse widths of 100 or 150 ps, repetition rates of 200 kHz, and 5 W output power at 1064 nm wavelength. On the other hand, the Italian team ppqSense S.r.l. will be demonstrating a modular platform to operate and control semiconductor lasers—especially quantum cascade lasers.

Miniaturized spectroscope

Two teams will be presenting mini spectrometers. FiSens is exhibiting the “world’s smallest fiber-optic spectrometer.” Its spectral resolution in the visible range is 1 nm. The device, which weighs just 40 grams, together with electronics and USB connection, fits into an 18 cm³ housing. This is possible because the team uses a femtosecond laser to inscribe the spectrometer function—known as a FiSpec® diffraction grating—into a standard telecommunication fiber. The French team Femto Easy offers a mini spectrometer with less than 10 micrometer spatial resolution and a spectral resolution in the sub-nanometer range at frequencies to 75 kHz. The spatial-temporal coupling predestines the Mini Imaging Spatial Spectrometer (MISS) for the USP area.

Many startups focus on imaging and 3D imaging

Almost all of the other teams see their future in the field of imaging and 3D imaging. For instance, Brighterwave from Finland, which develops ultra-compact laser modules for life science imaging. The high-speed laser beam sources with frequencies to more than 200 MHz and wavelengths between 400 and 700 nm are available with different fibers as required and, together with driver and USB interface, are just 17x15x27 mm.

Curve One specializes in giving standard CMOS imaging sensors a fish eye function through curving. This enables simpler designs and lenses and improved image quality. The patented process from the French team is aimed at autonomous vehicles and airplanes, astronomy, machine vision, and medical imaging. It’s these markets that Newsight Imaging also has its eye on with an optimized CMOS sensor. It combines eight rows each with 2048 pixels—half with 4x8 µm pixels and half with 4x4 µm pixels. This significantly increases sensitivity so that the sensor can replace expensive CCD sensors in many applications. TriEye is also aiming for applications in the automotive market with a CMOS-based camera system. It is able to capture shortwave infrared (SWIR) light and, consequently, allows cars to “see” at night and in fog. The CMOS-based design also has HD resolution, low power consumption, and above all, an enormous price advantage compared to the InGaAs sensors currently used by car makers.

Other teams focusing on autonomous vehicles and machine vision are the LiDAR specialist Blickfeld and K|Lens. The latter is developing an innovative 3D imaging system. In its patented system an image duplication mechanism that, with the help of a kaleidoscopic mirror system, simultaneously shows nine different perspectives of one scene on pre-defined areas of a camera sensor. Based on the perspective differences, software derives spatial information. Dynamic Optics from Italy also aims to introduce more flexibility to camera optics. It develops freely programmable, adaptive multi-actor lenses from ultra-thin glass. With piezoelectric excitation, they are able to change their shape in just over a millisecond, which enables fast focusing and also corrects aberrations.

No less innovative is precise distance measurement with a fiber-optic sensor, developed by the trinamiX team. Under difficult environmental conditions, the possible separation of measuring head and electronics could be a great benefit. APICBEAM is looking even more into the future. The team takes imaging literally – and generates floating hologram-like images and videos by coding image information by means of optical dispersion in a thin line of light. The generated image appears like a hologram, can be viewed from all directions and keeps facing all viewers at all times.