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Sarnoff, HRL to lead PIC projects for DARPA

14 Feb 2011

Development teams headed up by Sarnoff and HRL Laboratories will work on photonic integrated circuits (PICs) for optical beam steering.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Microsystems Technology Office (MTO), the high-tech hardware development wing of the US military, has awarded two multi-million dollar contracts for the development of photonic integrated circuits (PICs).

Sarnoff and HRL Laboratories are each to head up a major research project focused on PIC development for high-speed optical beam steering and sensing. The HRL-led effort receives $14.3 million, while Sarnoff gets $8.5 million under the “Short-range Wide-field-of-view Extremely-agile Electronically-steered Photonic EmiteRs program, which also goes by the name of SWEEPER.

DARPA has been actively soliciting proposals for the project since 2009. According to the original Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) back in June 2009:

The overall goal is to create a paradigm shift in active optical beam steering and sensing by developing chip-scale integrated photonic coherent beam-forming technologies that overcome the limits of opto- mechanical and electro optical systems while being constrained to small size, weight, and power (SWaP). DARPA envisions that a successful SWEEPER program will establish photonic integrated circuit (PIC) technology that will provide video frame rate beam steering speeds, and emit multiple beams with a total output power of 10 W.

In essence, the development effort is geared towards producing PICs that operate in the near-infrared region and enable optical phased arrays, a “lidar” equivalent of the phased array radars that have already featured under previous DARPA programs. According to the BAA:

Such arrays will require the integration of thousands of closely packed optical emitting facets, precise relative electronic phase control of these facets, and all within a very small form factor.

Specific applications of the technology mentioned in the BAA include surveillance, 3D imaging and precision targeting, as well as biological sensing, navigation and missile detection.

According to the DARPA web site, Scott Rodgers will take charge of the SWEEPER project as program manager at the agency, although Michael Haney was listed in this position on the original BAA.

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