Electronic Design

Visible-laser driver has digitally controlled power and modulation

In the circuit presented here, a 10-bit digital-to-analog converter with a three-wire serial input operates and maintains a visible-light laser diode at constant average optical output power. A separate digital input line (MOD) enables a comparator with open-drain output (IC4) to implement digital communications by pulsing the laser diode via Q1. Circuit components were chosen to minimize the layout area and cost.

Many laser diodes include a photodiode that generates a current proportional to the intensity (optical power) of the laser beam. Most of these photodiodes, however, have relatively slow response times and can’t track the peak optical power of a typical modulated laser diode. Instead, the driver circuits for these devices control the laser by monitoring a relative average optical power.

Resistor R6 converts the photodiode current to a usable voltage, which is applied to the inverting input of a “leaky” integrator based on the highspeed op amp IC3. The integrator smooths out variations in the modulation, and prevents the feedback loop from trying to regulate the laser pulses. The integrator is made leaky (by R10) to ensure compensation of downward as well as upward variations in the average power.

Thus, the integrator creates an error signal and base drive for Q1 by monitoring the voltage across R6 and comparing it to the DAC’s preset voltage. The DAC’s reference voltage (from IC1) is 2.5 V, but its output-voltage buffer has a gain of two, giving the DAC output an adjustment range of 0 to 5 V. With its nominal base voltage set by the DAC output, Q1 controls the optical power by regulating current through the laser diode.

R9 provides isolation and helps to stabilize IC3 when the base of Q1 is being shorted and released by a signal from the MOD input. By maintaining a small laser-diode current during the “off” periods of digital modulation, R1 preempts another problem—startup time for a laser diode increases tremendously if the forward current goes to zero. R1 ensures that the laser current is below the threshold for lasing, but high enough to allow an acceptable turn-on time for communication and modulation.

See associated figure

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