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Theses Doctoral

High Performance Phased Array Platform for LiDAR Applications

Zadka, Moshe

Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) systems are expected to become the de facto sensors of choice for autonomous vehicles and robotics systems due to their long range and high resolution, allowing them to map the environment accurately. Current available LiDAR systems are based on mechanical apparatus and discrete components that result in large, bulky, and expensive systems with yet-to-be-proven reliability. The advent of Silicon Photonics technology, advanced CMOS foundries allow us to fabricate miniaturized optical components such as phased arrays that combined enable reliable, solid-state, and cost-effective chip-scale LiDAR systems. Furthermore, Silicon Photonics based platform has the advantage of integrating many complex optical components in to a single chip. It is possible to realize an optical phased array based on waveguides with gratings for emitters. These emitters allow to steer the beam by tuning the source's wavelength exploiting the grating's sensitivity to wavelength in one axis and standard phase tuning on the other axis. Such a steering scheme requires only N phase shifters for an N-channel system thus leading to high power efficiency. Another example that could leverage the Silicon Photonics platform is a full coherent LiDAR system utilizing Frequency-Modulated Continuous-Wave (FMCW) detection scheme that was recently reported. However, miniaturizing a LiDAR system to chip-scale has many challenges.

The work in this dissertation presents solutions to some of the key challenges we face in order to demonstrate high performance LiDAR based on phased array. One key challenge is the trade-off between beam divergence and field of view. Here, we show a platform based on silicon-nitride/silicon that achieves simultaneously minimal beam divergence and maximum field of view while maintaining performance that is robust to fabrication variations. In addition, in order to maximize the emission from the entire length of the grating, we design the grating’s strength by varying its duty cycle (apodization) to emit uniformly. We fabricate a millimeter long grating emitter with diffraction-limited beam divergence of 0.089°.

Another challenge that is intertwined with the aperture length mention before is how maximizing the steering range in an optical phased array. The array's field of view that is perpendicular to the light propagation is governed by the spacing between emitters. In contrast to Radio Frequency based devices, achieving maximum field of view by placing the emitters at half wavelength pitch to avoid side lobes, is challenging for optical phased arrays as the size of the mode is comparable to the wavelength that give rise to cross-talk issues. Emitter pitch that is larger than half the wavelength induce grating lobes in the steered range, effectively limiting the field of view. The closer together the waveguides, the shorter emitters must be to avoid cross-talk, fundamentally limiting the spot size at the farfield. Cross-talk between waveguides induces wavefront aberrations in the beam, thereby increasing beam divergence and limiting the system resolution and range. Here, we improve the mode confinement in the waveguide by increasing the index along the waveguide axis. We use thin Silicon rods, known as metamaterials, between the emitters to tightly confine the mode in the waveguide.
Concentrating the mode in the waveguide reduces cross-talk between emitters and maximizes the optical phased array field of view. By embedding an array in a Mach–Zehnder interferometer we demonstrate a sensitive method of measuring cross-talk between the waveguide. We also measure in the nearfield the width of an array of waveguides over a millimeter long emitters. We show that by using the metamaterials we can realize a dense array with a pitch of 1.2 µm over a millimeter long waveguides with gratings at negligible cross-talk. This short pitch allows for 83° steering angle range (Field of View). Combining this the work of Silicon Nitride based long gratings, will allow for a LiDAR system with minimal beam divergence while achieving record large Field of View.

Finally, the last chapter discusses Subwavelength Grating structures that due to their sub-wavelength dimensions guide light without diffraction. These structures allow us to tailor the required effective index by varying their duty cycle. We evaluate their robustness to fabrication variations by embedding them inside a sensitive race track. Using this resonator we measured the sensitivity of Subwavelength Grating structures to an off-set in the element's location, elements' width, duty cycle variation, and width change of a single element. Lastly, we show that due to their periodic structure, they are also robust to as many as three consecutive missing elements. This protection property opens the possibility of realizing a plethora of new devices not possible using wire waveguides. One such example is a T-splitter in which an incoming Transverse Magnetic polarized mode could be split to two separate branches at a 90° angle.

The demonstrated platform we show here paves the way for on-chip LiDAR systems for autonomous automotive, robotics, wireless communications, and particle trapping.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Electrical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Lipson, Michal
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 27, 2020