Paging Han Solo: Researchers find more efficient way to steer laser beams

May 02, 2011

For many practical applications involving lasers, it's important to be able to control the direction of the laser beams. Just ask Han Solo, or the captain of the Death Star. Researchers from North Carolina State University have come up with a very energy-efficient way of steering laser beams that is precise and relatively inexpensive.

"In many cases, it is much easier to redirect a at a target than to steer the laser itself. We intended to develop a way to do this efficiently and without moving anything," says Dr. Michael Escuti, an associate professor of electrical engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper on the research. "We also wanted to be able to steer the beams over a wide range of angles, which is important for practical applications."

The key to the Escuti team's success was the use of "polarization gratings," which consist of a of liquid crystal material on a glass plate. The researchers created a device that allows a laser beam to pass through a stack of these gratings. Researchers manipulated the of each grating, and were able to steer the laser beams by controlling how each individual grating redirects the light. "Because each individual grating is very good at redirecting light in the desired directions with almost no absorption, the stack of gratings do not significantly weaken the ," Escuti says.

Another advantage of the system, Escuti explains, is that "every grating that we add to the stack increases the number of steerable angles exponentially. So, not only can we steer lasers efficiently, but we can do it with fewer components in a more compact system.

"Compared to other laser steering technologies, this is extremely cost-effective. We're taking advantage of materials and techniques that are already in widespread use in the liquid crystal display sector."

The technology has a variety of potential applications. For example, free space communication uses lasers to transfer data between platforms – such as between satellites or between an aircraft and soldiers on the battlefield. This sort of communication relies on accurate and efficient laser-beam steering. Other technologies that could make use of the research include laser weapons and LIDAR, or radar, which uses light for optical scanning applications – such as mapping terrain.

Escuti's team has already delivered prototypes of the technology to the U.S. Air Force, and is currently engaged in additional research projects to determine the technology's viability for a number of other applications.

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More information: The paper, "Wide-angle, nonmechanical beam steering with high-throughput utilizing polarization gratings," was co-authored by Escuti; NC State Ph.D. student Jihwan Kim; former NC State Ph.D. student Chulwoo Oh; and Steve Serati of Boulder Nonlinear Systems, Inc. The paper is published in the journal Applied Optics.

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hemitite
3 / 5 (2) May 02, 2011
Han Solo was the captain of the Millennium Falcon, the bad guys had the Death Star.
Quantum_Conundrum
5 / 5 (2) May 02, 2011
Han Solo was the captain of the Millennium Falcon, the bad guys had the Death Star.


We should point out the existence of the part of speech called a conjunction.

Notice the word "or" following the comma. This indicates the author is well aware Han Solo is not the "captain" of the Death Star, and these are two seperate individuals.
LuckyBrandon
not rated yet May 02, 2011
yea, but either way, Han didn't have a laser..unless you count that little peashooter that made Luke cocky.

It sounds like this could lead to non-line of sight lasers (I'm thinking really cool laser weapons here)?
hemitite
not rated yet May 02, 2011
"We should point out..."

So are you currently in an indeterminate state? ;)

And yes I did miss the "or" and should, in addition, have used a semicolon between the two clauses above - just another Monday morning!
Javinator
5 / 5 (1) May 02, 2011
yea, but either way, Han didn't have a laser..unless you count that little peashooter that made Luke cocky.


Then how did he kill Greedo?
pauljpease
5 / 5 (1) May 02, 2011


It sounds like this could lead to non-line of sight lasers (I'm thinking really cool laser weapons here)?


True, you wouldn't need a line-of-sight between laser and target, but you'd still need line-of-sight between target and beam-steerer.
Moebius
not rated yet May 03, 2011
yea, but either way, Han didn't have a laser..unless you count that little peashooter that made Luke cocky.


Then how did he kill Greedo?


And besides that I think the author meant the steerable lasers on the Millennium Falcon.
LKD
not rated yet May 04, 2011
I think the author meant the steerable lasers on the Millennium Falcon.

I always wondered why they had ships that flew faster than light, yet the laser cannons had to be manually operated like a WW2 flying fortress....

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