Osram doubles down on lasers, this time for facial recognition and medical imaging

Sept. 18, 2018
The company continues to move beyond LEDs for general lighting and expands its laser-light-source offerings.

The company continues to move beyond LEDs for general lighting and expands its laser-light-source offerings.

Osram continued to widen its technology net beyond general lighting and LEDs, making two moves in the last week to embrace lasers, one aimed at facial recognition and the other at medical imaging.

The Munich company introduced a new vertical-cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL), which it said will serve as an infrared light source that mobile phones can use to identify faces and unlock access to the phone. The technology comes from Osram’s recently acquired Vixar operations, based in Plymouth, MN.

“A camera is used to capture the significant features of the user,” Osram’s Osram Opto Semiconductors division explained. “The image is then compared with the image of the user stored in the system — if the two match, the device will be unlocked.”

Osram said the chip, called the Bidos PLPVQ 940A, marks the launch of “a new product family.”

The Bidos VCSEL, with its 3D sensing, provides a higher-end option over Osram Opto’s existing IR LED-based facial recognition technology — what Osram also calls IREDs.

“Compared with other infrared technologies, VCSEL offers better beam quality, excellent focusing, and a very small footprint,” said Bianka Schnabel, Osram Opto’s marketing manager for the emitter laser sensor segment. “Customers can now choose the best solution for their specific application from our extended infrared portfolio — whether it’s IRED, laser, or VCSEL.”

Osram is targeting its new VCSEL at the facial recognition market, for applications like mobile phone security.

The infrared laser chip delivers a wavelength of 940 nm. Osram said it “offers a maximum efficiency of 27% and an output of 300 mW.” Its compact dimensions (1.90 × 2.20 ×0.85 mm) make it suitable for phones.

VCSELs emit laser light from their surface as opposed to from their edge the way “edge-emitting lasers” do, providing form factor advantages that allow them to serve in many of the same places as LEDs, such as phones. LEDs also emit light from their surface.

“In addition to facial recognition, the components are suitable for applications in robotics, drones, augmented reality, and virtual reality,” Osram said.

Medical laser imaging investment

Separately, Osram’s venture capital arm, called Fluxunit, joined a €7 million ($8.2 million) round in a Munich medical imaging startup called iThera Medical.

iThera combines lasers and acoustics to help precisely detect tumors and inflammatory diseases. The multispectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT) converts light energy into sound waves.

For the first time, MSOT allows researchers and medical professionals to display and quantify concentrations and spatial distributions of biological marker molecules such as hemoglobin, melanin, water, and lipids.

“MSOT enables doctors to diagnose illnesses and diseases with higher specificity, non-invasively and in real time,” Osram said. “Of particular importance are such capabilities in the continuous monitoring and therapy control of chronic inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s disease or the identification of tumorous tissue, for example, in breast cancer.”

Besides Fluxunit, other investors in the round included Wachstumsfonds Bayern, BayBG Bayerische Beteiligungsgesellschaft and Extorel.

Editor’s note: You can learn more about optoacoustic imaging and MSOT from our colleagues at Laser Focus World.

More on the interplay of LEDs and lasers

In 2014, LEDs Magazine reported that Osram Opto Semiconductors’ laser diodes and Corning’s fiber optic technology were being combined in a flexible solid-state lighting (SSL) product that delivered diffuse light.

A year later, technology journalist Bob Johnstone chronicled the developments in laser technology and fabrication that led to the viability of the light-emitting diode and the role of LED pioneer Shuji Nakamura.

Osram has also been active in researching and producing laser-based products for range-finding and LIDAR applications in driving autonomous vehicle technology forward.

Last year, Johnstone released L.E.D.: A History of the Future of Lighting, in which he follows the origins of the LED and provides a solid perspective on its evolution and future in emerging SSL applications.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.