Laser Light Projection May Soon be a Reality for Cars

USLT Technology ZKW lase beam cars 125x86

September 19, 2021

USLT Technology ZKW laser beam cars 400x275Together with research partners Silicon Austrian Labs, Evatec, EV Group, and TDK Electronics,lighting specialist ZKW Group is working on “micromirror” technology involving laser light projection for the auto industry. This microelectromechanical system (MEMS) consists of a chip with integrated, microscopic mirror mechanics; the micromirror can be pivoted around two axes by means of piezoelectricity and enables a laser beam to be specifically and precisely directed. The goal is to enable smart lighting functions for vehicles, such as the projection of symbols (i.e. arrows) and warnings onto the road, or flexible, adaptive vehicle lighting. This technology can be used in front lights, rear lights, or as side projection, as well as in LIDAR systems for optical distance measurement.

“Micromirror could be a strategically important key technology enabling new automated lighting functions for autonomous driving. The goal of this so-called ‘smart road lighting’ is to make vehicles smarter, safer and more interactive,” explained Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.

Bundled competencies

Within the framework of the research cooperation, which was launched earlier this year, the partners contribute their respective core competencies. Silicon Austrian Labs (SAL) contributes research expertise and offers microelectronics manufacturing capabilities.TDK is responsible for development of piezo-enabled materials and related expertise.EVATEC provides the necessary technical equipment and machinery.The EV Group is a leading supplier of nanoimprint equipment with extensive process knowledge. Lighting systems specialist ZKW is concerned with achieving the highest possible resolution of projected light functions in order to increase road safety. ZKW is currently working on two prototypes that combine the micromirror chip and the necessary electronics in a single lighting system.

Wide range of applications

Piezoelectric micromirror technology offers several key advantages. It requires only low voltage and little current, but delivers high power and the development is highly flexible, enabling a variety of applications for automotive lighting systems. With micromirror systems that can be integrated at any position on the vehicle, symbols, images, and even videos can be projected onto the road. Practical applications range from crosswalks made of light that signal priority to pedestrians, to precise LIDAR distance measurement, to projection of warnings onto the road. “Micromirror technology makes it possible to use light to communicate with road users. The system supports the next steps toward autonomous driving,” Schubert affirmed.

Collaborative Integration

With the combined expertise of its partners, the micromirror project is a model for cross-disciplinary research and collaboration. Dr. Martin Eibelhuber, Deputy Head of Business Development EV Group, said, “The integration of optics and electronics poses new challenges for manufacturing technologies and devices. We aim to enable new process capabilities for mass production.”

Added Ralf Eichert, Managing Director & Senior Vice President Evatec Europe GmbH, “We will use our know-how to accelerate the development of the required thin-film production processes. In doing so, we will focus on high-performance piezoelectric coatings that enable precise positioning of micromirrors.”

Regarding the collaboration, Dr. Mohssen Moridi, head of Microsystem Technologies research at Silicon Austria Labs, noted, “Working with some of the best semiconductor equipment suppliers allows us to address the current challenges of mass producing high-performance piezo thin films as the core of our micromirror and push the boundaries of nanoimprint technology to achieve better optical performance. Together with our industrial partners, we can bring the developed piezo MEMS module to mass production in the shortest possible time. SAL’s unique expertise in MEMS, optical systems, electronics and system integration makes us a one-stop store for our partners.”

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