March 22, 2016 – Boulder Nonlinear Systems (BNS) has received the 2016 Prism Award for Photonics Innovation in the category of “Optics and Optical Components.” The Prism Award, organized by the international society for optics and photonics (SPIE) and Photonics Media, is the premier international competition for new optical technologies and products. The award was presented to BNS in recognition of their development of multi-stage Liquid Crystal Polarization Gratings (LCPGs) for non-mechanical beam steering.
“It has been a long-held desire by many in the optical sensing community to have the ability to non-mechanically steer light in a manner similar to their RF counterparts,” says BNS President and CTO Steve Serati. “Such optical techniques have been under development for over 20 years, but efficient two-dimensional steering of beams with small angular divergence over wide angles has posed a serious challenge. The LCPG steering technology addresses all aspects of this challenge, enabling wide spread adoption in a range of applications. We are very pleased that the Prism selection committee recognized the importance of this advancement with this award.”
LCPGs are thin transmissive optical elements that provide polarization-sensitive diffractive beam steering. By controlling the polarization state of light as it progresses through a stack of LCPG elements, light can be steered through a wide array of discrete angles with >99% diffractive efficiency. This non-mechanical approach enables fast random-access beam steering while greatly reducing the size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements relative to traditional optical steering systems, such as gimbals and scanning mirrors. The elimination of moving parts also eliminates slewing and settling times, improves steering accuracy, and reduces maintenance requirements.
The many benefits of this non-mechanical approach make LCPGs attractive for many high-performance applications, particularly in aerospace where SWaP requirements are critical. BNS is already putting this technology into practice in a number of different areas, including laser radar, passive imaging in both the visible and infrared bands, wind sensing, and headlight steering.
BNS and co-inventors at North Carolina State University were awarded the patent for beam steering with LCPGs in 2015, with BNS holding exclusive rights in all fields of use.