The security and protection of borders, infrastructures and strategic sites, such as gas and oil platforms, maritime infrastructures and power plants, is of great importance. Continuous monitoring of these areas can be performed by using light and compact devices that can be placed on UAVs or in specific locations of the premises where a small footprint equipment is required. Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) systems offer a powerful remote sensing technique, which uses laser light (similar to the RADAR, where radiowaves are employed) to retrieve information about the environment and surroundings close to its location. Its significant advantage over standard CCD or night vision cameras consists in the ability to measure distances with high accuracy and build a 3D map of the scanned area. LIDARs are composed of three submodules, as illustrated in the following figure: a light emitter, optics for the scanning process, and a photodetector and receiver electronics.
The light emitter is a key element of the system, and to allow for high precision detection it has so far required a bulky and heavy configuration. The aim of the CALIBER project is to develop a miniaturized version of the LIDAR source, by integrating a new microchip seed laser and a new power amplifier in a Master Oscillator Power Amplifier (MOPA) configuration, which combines high output powers and high quality optical characteristics. Moreover, the CALIBER source will be developed at an “eye-safe” wavelength of 1550 nm, due to the relative retinal safety at this wavelength. This will allow using higher peak powers than traditionally-used 850 nm or 1064 nm lasers, with the benefit of higher fidelity, longer distances in the atmosphere, and more accurate results than other compact eye-safe sensors. The specific CALIBER project objectives are the following:
- to develop a compact eye-safe microchip laser source with unprecedented specifications in terms of peak and average power,
- to study and fabricate novel phosphate glass compositions for an ultra-compact eye-safe amplifier, and
- to integrate the seed laser and the power amplifier into a compact LIDAR source that offers ultra-compactness, eye-safe, high peak power in a very competitive pricing.
The CALIBER project will bring together the heterogeneous and complementary expertise of four research centres. The collaboration will encompass a NATO Country (Italy) and two NATO Partner Countries (Israel and Finland). Although the target specifications are challenging, literature and technical considerations confirm that they are achievable. The plan for the product development has been established following a technological and collaborative strategy able to deploy at maximum the individual expertise of each member through collaborative work. The successful completion of the project, with the development of the ultra-compact LIDAR source, will enable for the first time, both physically and cost wise, mounting a high precision LIDAR on a small to medium UAV platform, boosting the security capabilities of these emerging platforms. As such, we already received support letters from potential end user companies, and believe this will be a real breakthrough in terms of the SPS key priorities.