Assistant Professor Amir Arbabi and his Post Doctoral Research Associate Andrew McClung of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department have received a Manning/Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) Award from the UMass Applied Proof-of-Concept Seed Fund Program. The main objective of the funded project is to demonstrate prototypes of a solid-state, low-cost, miniature lidar system with high resolution, low power consumption, and large field-of-view. Such lidar systems are highly desirable for multiple applications, including robotics, automatic guided vehicles in the logistics industry, driver assistance systems, and integration into gadgets such as smartphones.
According to its website, the objective of the Manning Award – which offers up to $100,000 of funding for approximately 12 months – is “to advance the ongoing development of discoveries, new knowledge, and inventions originating from UMass Amherst towards translational research funding and/or advancing start-ups towards product candidate status.”
The seed funding is meant to support “high-potential” and “applied” projects to increase the number and quality of campus translational projects ready to receive follow-on federal, state, and private funding (including angel investment, venture capital, center-level awards, and other support). The award is intended to allow the hiring of a research staff scientist, postdoctoral fellow, or graduate student and to support associated lab expenses for approximately one year.
The background of Arbabi’s project is that market analysts expect the global 3D imaging and sensing market to expand from $5 billion in 2019 to $15 billion in 2025 and estimate that the lidar modules will account for about 60 percent of the whole 3D sensing market. The market in largely driven by the fact that smartphone manufacturers have recently started adding lidars to phones.
“The proposed lidar system is enabled by two technological advances developed by us,” says Arbabi. “The first is efficient, wide-angle metalenses, and the second is dense 2D arrays of semiconductor lasers.”
Metalenses are very small, thin, flat surfaces that are engineered through nanostructures to focus light.
Arbabi has been one of the pioneers in the development of metalenses, and the technology was recognized as one of the top 10 emerging technologies of 2019 by the World Economic Forum.
As Arbabi explains, “Compared to the state of the art, the proposed lidar system is thinner, consumes less power, has a wider field of view, higher spatial and depth resolutions, and can be manufactured at a lower cost.”
Arbabi adds that these features are highly desirable for smartphones, which form the largest lidar market sector, and for Department of Defense and National Aeronautics and Space Administration applications.
“Following the successful demonstration of our laser scanning system,” says Arbabi, “we plan to start a company for the commercialization of miniaturized optical systems based on metalens technology. In addition to the proposed lidar system, we have developed several miniature optical systems such as cameras and spectrometers.”
Significant funding for the Manning Award comes from a gift to the College of Natural Sciences by the Manning Family Foundation and from the IALS Seed Fund Program.
Additional contributions come from the College of Natural Sciences, the Berthiaume Center, the Isenberg School of Management, and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. Recipients of Manning funds are also designated as Manning/IALS Innovation Fellows. (November 2020)