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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X032868/1
Title: Integrated Solid-State Steerable Lasers (I-STEER)
Principal Investigator: Hogg, Professor RA
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Dr D KIM
Project Partners:
Airbus Defense and Space Defence Science & Tech Lab DSTL Fraunhofer Institut (Multiple, Grouped)
Leonardo UK ltd Photonicity Ltd QD Laser Inc
Samsung Electronics UK Ltd Thales Ltd Vector Photonics
Department: College of Engineering and Physical Sci
Organisation: Aston University
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 February 2024 Ends: 31 July 2027 Value (£): 944,025
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Optoelect. Devices & Circuits
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
EP/X03299X/1
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
03 Jul 2023 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel July 2023 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Lasers are a key enabling technology in countless areas of modern society, touching on our lives in terms of ubiquitous connectivity, data storage, healthcare, security, environmental monitoring, etc. Examples include telecommunications, where they are used to generate the information carrying optical signals that are transmitted along thin glass optical fibres, manufacturing, where they are used for welding and cutting materials, and medicine, where they are used for sensing blood oxygen levels, and precisely resecting tissues.

For almost all laser applications, it is necessary to use the laser source in combination with another technology that directs or "steers" the laser light in the desired direction. In some cases, this technology can be "passive", as is the case with the glass optical fibres used in telecommunications. In other cases, the steering technology must be "active" to change the direction of the laser beam in time, as is the case with the rapidly moving mirror systems used in some laser cutting and laser imaging systems.

Conventional active laser steering technologies are often costly, bulky, and fragile. One or more of these disadvantages makes them sub-optimal for many important applications, including laser imaging systems for automotive applications, space-based laser communications systems, and drone-based remote sensing systems. To address this, there is currently a global drive to develop fully integrated solid-state beam-steering technologies, where the laser light is steered without the use of any physically moving components. Currently, however, even state-of-the-art solid-state laser beam steering systems have limited functionality, and do not meet the requirements of many real-world applications. In this project, we will exploit recent advances in two key integrated optical technologies - coherent Photonic Crystal Surface Emitting Laser (PCSEL) diode arrays and three-dimensional optical waveguide devices known as "integrated photonic lanterns" - to develop fully Integrated Solid-State Steerable Lasers (I-STEER) that can deliver agile beam steering in two dimensions and can, in principle, function at any diode laser wavelength.

I-STEER will target the development of 900-mode PCSEL arrays, but will deliver the technological advances necessary to enable future PCSEL arrays (using commercial manufacturing facilities) that generate 10's of thousands of independently phase and ampltiude controllable coherent laser modes. A key aim of I-STEER is to enable denser PCSEL arrays, where the laser mode diameter is reduced to 20 microns (~20 wavelengths) and the centre-to-centre separation is reduced to ~50 microns (~50 wavelengths) - current PCSEL arrays exhibit 50 micron diameter laser modes with centre-to-centre separations of 400 microns. Unfortunately, even the ambitious spatial scales we are targeting mean that the PCSEL array will still be unsuitable for direct use as an optical phased array (OPA), since OPAs require very tightly packed wide angle emitters to achieve large angle/lobe free beam-steering. To address this, I-STEER introduces the fresh idea of using three-dimensional integrated optical waveguide transitions known as "integrated photonic lanterns" to adiabatically combine the PCSEL modes into a single highly multimode pattern of light, the spatial phase and amplitude properties of which can be directly controlled for beam steering via the PCSEL drive electronics.

Through the I-STEER project, we aim to redefine the laser diode as an all-electronic integrated steerable light source enabling new functionally in countless applications including free-space optical communications and LiDAR. The generation of intellectual property and capability in this area will place the UK in a leading position with regards this strongly growing academic field, wealth generation through the creation of licensing and/or spin-outs, and in early adoption of UK based OEMs of this new technology.

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Organisation Website: http://www.aston.ac.uk