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DeCIBELs set for laser projector debut

11 Jan 2007

EpiCrystals believes its tiny RGB laser modules are ideal for handheld "pico-projector" systems. Optics.org speaks with company CEO Tomi Jouhti to find out more.

Finnish start-up EpiCrystals believes that its DeCIBEL semiconductor laser platform has all the characteristics to enable the production of compact projector engines. Power-scalable and with no need for free-space optics, the lasers are inexpensive, easily mass-produced and suit projection applications ranging from handheld to home theatre.

"We think that we have the most suitable technology for handheld projectors when you compare it to other approaches," EpiCrystals' CEO Tomi Jouhti told optics.org. "Not many competing technologies can be fitted into handheld devices."

The RGB DeCIBEL platform uses frequency-doubled semiconductor diode lasers that are based on GaAs. Although the three colours use the same laser architecture, specific quantum well regions generate light at 465 nm (blue), 532 nm (green) and 625 nm (red). The sources can be sold individually or combined to produce a compact RGB module.

"We are aiming at 50 mW per color per emitter," said Jouhti. "We have a fully power scalable design and a large array could go up to 5W for home theatre or office projectors for example. Our aim is to provide the laser sources - we are not interested in manufacturing the overall projection engine."

Jouhti adds that EpiCrystals' core competences are in the laser design and generating red light. "We use a novel semiconductor material for the red and conventional materials for the blue and green," he said. "We have combined several pieces of laser technology in a new way and this is what we have patented."

An RGB module is said to be on the millimeter scale. The good emitted beam quality means that free-space optics are not required. "There is also no need for speckle-reduction components as the speckle is within acceptable levels," added Jouhti. "Both of these factors are reflected in the price of the whole module."

"For low power devices for handheld projectors in mobile phones we are looking at chip prices of $1 to a few dollars per colour in large volumes in the millions per year mark," Jouhti continued. "This mark is certainly something we can go after."

EpiCrystals is providing samples to selected customers this year and hopes to make the devices commercially available in 2008.

Having spun-out of the Optoelectronics Research Centre of Tampere University of Technology in 2003, EpiCrystals secured seed funding the following year. The company is now looking to close its first round of funding this quarter.

EpiCrystals also won the 2006 European Venture Contest, beating off 484 other hopefuls from across the region. The contest is said to be the only pan-European competition with an exclusive focus on top technology ventures showing "the ambition and potential to reshape their industry and conquer the international market".

Jacqueline Hewett is editor of Optics & Laser Europe magazine.

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