PFI:AIR - TT: Highly Sensitive Eye-safe Flash LiDARs based on Nanoinjection Detectors

Project: Research project

Project Details


Overview: This Accelerating Innovation Technology Translation project is to build a prototype short-wave infrared (SWIR) imager, based on the “Nano-injection” technology that was originally developed under an NSF CAREER Award. We have achieved recent breakthrough results that would allow realization of the first SWIR camera with sensitivity of single-photon detection and with negligible dark counts per frame.
SWIR imaging (0.9 to 1.7 m wavelength range) is already used in many applications, including medical imaging, machine vision, surveillance, spectroscopy, and astronomy. But existing SWIR detectors have reached a performance ceiling, and cannot offer the increased speed and sensitivity these applications demand. In the near term, new SWIR imagers based on the Nano-injection technology can take market share away from existing products by offering significant (more than 10x) performance improvements at equal or lower cost. In the long term, the unique single-photon sensitivity of this technology can enable vast new markets such as quantum computing and quantum cryptography.
Nano-injection detectors are completely compatible with the standard semiconductor processing methods, as well as hybridization with CMOS integrated readout circuits (ROIC). In fact, in 2010 we demonstrated a camera based on the first-generation nano-injection devices. The camera showed a very low noise level of 28e-rms, which was limited by the very short integration times due to the large dark current of the detectors. We could reduce the dark current by cooling, but then it was limited by a temperature independent surface leakage current.
Based on these results, DARPA funded us to improve the first-generation nano-injection for quantum computing applications. Although the program ended last month, it led to a breakthrough in our processing method about three months ago. The new nano-injection devices show more than two orders of magnitude lower dark current compared with the best first-generation devices. More importantly, we could not detect any surface leakage, down to the limit of our instruments. Our devices have now three orders of magnitude lower dark current than the best reported HgCdTe (MCT) linear-mode avalanche photodiodes (eAPD). Based on the measured dark current, gain, and speed of the new devices, we predict that the proposed SWIR imager will have below 1 e- rms noise - far better than any existing SWIR imager.
The NSF-AIR funding will play a key role in the commercialization process already underway. The PIs have secured an option to exclusively license the IP underlying the Nano-injection technology from Northwestern University. The NSF funding will support a prototype SWIR camera, which will be used to demonstrate the Nano-injection technology to potential partners such as FLIR and Teledyne (see attached support letters). Based on this demonstration, the PIs believe they can secure customer commitments and venture capital funding. The Co-PI has extensive experience in building successful venture funded businesses based on university technology, and intends to play a principal management role in this commercial effort.
Intellectual Merit: 1) Proposed work will advance the physics of nano-injection mechanism. This knowledge can then be applied to fabricate similar devices with visible or ultraviolet imaging capabilities. 2) The unprecedented sensitivity of the proposed camera is an enabling technology for many existing and emerging imaging applications. 3) Research on processing and passivation of this device will improve our k
Effective start/end date4/1/157/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (IIP-1500314)


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