Technology Insights: Photonics lights the way to innovation

Feb. 28, 2019

Photonics—the generation, control, and detection of photons—supports technologies in our daily lives, from smartphones, to computers, to the internet, to medical instruments. The great minds of our age are toiling in laboratories in quests to unlock the next steps in understanding and creating groundbreaking technological advances. Stories of astounding progress and discoveries emerge in media reports on a daily basis. Following are a few eureka developments from the recent past:

AI device that identifies objects at the speed of light

A UCLA team of electrical and computer engineers, using a 3D printer, has created a physical artificial neural network that is able to analyze immense volumes of data and identify objects at the speed of light.

The device, termed a “diffractive deep neural network,” uses the light reflected from the object itself to identify that object as quickly as It would take for a computer to “see” it, and doesn’t need advanced computing programs. Its creators claim that no energy is needed to run the device, which uses diffracted light. The invention could be used with autonomous vehicles, as well as microscopic imaging and medicine.

According to Aydogan Ozcan, the study’s principal investigator and the UCLA Chancellor’s Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, “This optical artificial neural network device is intuitively modeled on how the brain processes information. It could be scaled up to enable new camera designs and unique optical components that work passively in medical technologies, robotics, security or any application where image and video data are essential.”1 

3D printer uses rays of light to shape objects, transform product design

Lasers transmit audible messages to specific people

MIT researchers used two different laser-based methods to transmit tone, music, and recorded speech without the recipient having any type of receiver equipment.

“Our system can be used from some distance away to beam information directly to someone's ear,” said research team leader Charles M. Wynn. “It is the first system that uses lasers that are fully safe for the eyes and skin to localize an audible signal to a particular person in any setting.”

The researchers employed airborne water vapor to absorb light and create sound when hit by a sweeping laser.

“This can work even in relatively dry conditions because there is almost always a little water in the air, especially around people,” Wynn said. “We found that we don't need a lot of water if we use a laser wavelength that is very strongly absorbed by water. This was key because the stronger absorption leads to more sound.”

The researchers report that the signal can only be heard at a certain distance from the transmitter. This means that a message could be sent to an individual, rather than everyone who crosses the beam of light. It also opens the possibility of targeting a message to multiple individuals.3





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