With the Startup Award, the picture is very clear. Eleven of the 20 participating teams see their future in imaging. They are developing sensor systems for autonomous vehicles and airplanes and for industrial manufacturing processes. Mixed reality and solutions for digital spatial orientation also play an important role. Other hot spots of the startups include ultrashort pulse and fiber laser – in some cases, a combination of the two.
Some of these can also be found among the entrants for the 2019 Innovation Award. Such as sensors for machine vision and time-of-flight measurements for spatial orientation. The abbreviations SWIR, NIR, and MWIR (short-wave, near, mid-wave infrared) appear frequently. This is because by extending the wavelength spectrum in the IR range, imaging systems capture information that is hidden in the visible range. Some innovators are developing novel imaging sensors and inexpensive alternatives to established InGaAs sensors. Others are working on optimizing them, for example in the direction of HD resolution or improved bi-telecentric lenses.
Many new solutions are currently being developed in the field of ultrashort pulse (USP) technology: approaches with gas-filled hollow-core photonic crystal fibers (HCPCF), new compact femtosecond laser systems, drivers to fine tune picosecond laser processes, and picosecond fiber laser systems with exactly synchronized pump and signal pulses. In some cases, these USP solutions are aimed at another dynamic field of innovation: two/multi photon microscopy. This is because the extreme time resolution together with tunability makes USP lasers an interesting light source for microscopy and other imaging processes in biophotonics. The innovations range from 920 nanometer femtosecond fiber lasers with 100 fs pulse width and more than 1.5 watt power at 80 MHz repetition rate, which are tailored for the requirements of two-photon microscopy, to approaches to replace expensive tunable Ti:sapphire lasers as the central beam source with less expensive systems with several fixed wavelengths, to femtosecond fiber lasers with tuning ranges from 1,300 to 1,700 nm and up to 900 nJ pulse energy, which will also reduce the costs of multiphoton microscopy. It would appear that USP technology, in combination with fiber lasers, is just beginning to develop its technological potential.