APR 03, 2015 3:48 PM PDT

See It, Snap a Hyper-Crisp Shot, Make It

WRITTEN BY: Judy O'Rourke
Exceptional instant gratification may be closer at hand if Caltech scientists have their way.

With a new, small, super high-resolution 3-D imager they've developed, wanting something and having it in hand may soon be a click away.
A 3-D image produced by the new NCI chip. The image, taken from roughly half a meter (1.5 feet) away, shows the height of a US penny at various points.
To get a nearly perfect copy of an object, you would shoot a photo with your smartphone's integrated 3-D imager, forward it to your 3-D printer, and voila, minutes later you would have created a replica, faithful to the original within microns.

Making a precise copy of something with a 3-D printer today entails creating a high-resolution scan of it with a 3-D camera that calculates how high, wide, and deep it is. Nothing new, but for most peoples' day-to-day needs, the most sophisticated systems are too cumbersome and costly.

Behold the nanophotonic coherent imager (NCI), an inexpensive, space-saving new device that produces very accurate results. It relies on a low-priced silicon chip that measures less than a millimeter square.

The images created by the Caltech team's NCI yield more pixel-specific information than a typical camera. "Each pixel on the chip is an independent interferometer-an instrument that uses the interference of light waves to make precise measurements-which detects the phase and frequency of the signal in addition to the intensity," says Ali Hajimiri, PhD, the Thomas G. Myers Professor of Electrical Engineering, Division of Engineering and Applied Science.

The new chip uses LIDAR, an established detection and ranging technology, which entails lighting the desired object with scanning laser beams. "By having an array of tiny LIDARs on our coherent imager, we can simultaneously image different parts of an object or a scene without the need for any mechanical movements within the imager," Hajimiri says. "The small size and high quality of this new chip-based imager will result in significant cost reductions, which will enable thousands new of uses for such systems by incorporating them into personal devices such as smartphones."

The work performed in the laboratory of Ali Hajimiri is described in a paper titled "Nanophotonic coherent imager," in the February 2015 issue of Optics Express.

[Source: Caltech]
About the Author
  • Judy O'Rourke worked as a newspaper reporter before becoming chief editor of Clinical Lab Products magazine. As a freelance writer today, she is interested in finding the story behind the latest developments in medicine and science, and in learning what lies ahead.
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