DLP technology aims at emerging applications

DALLAS, TX—Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology from Texas Instruments (TI) is enabling innovation in emerging, high-growth applications with the introduction of the DLP Discovery 4000, a development kit based on the same spatial light modulation technology used in DLP projectors and high-definition televisions (HDTVs).

DALLAS, TX—Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology from Texas Instruments (TI) is enabling innovation in emerging, high-growth applications with the introduction of the DLP Discovery 4000, a development kit based on the same spatial light modulation technology used in DLP projectors and high-definition televisions (HDTVs). More than 16 million of the DLP chipsets featuring TI’s digital micromirror device (DMD) technology have shipped to date. The new addition to the DLP Discovery series of development kits will continue to feature the DLP chipset at its heart, offering fast switching, high resolution, high reflectivity and proven reliability. It is designed to address the specific needs of developers in innovative application areas, such as maskless printed-circuit-board (PCB) lithography, optical metrology, spectroscopy, medical imaging, and optical networking.

The digital micro-mirror device (DMD) is a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)-based optical semiconductor module that allows developers to manipulate light digitally. When integrated with a light source and optics, the DLP Discovery 4000 creates binary light patterns with speed, precision, and efficiency far surpassing that of other spatial light modulators. It is the only MEMS-based spatial-light-modulator device in mass production today that is capable of addressing ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths, according to Arun Chhabra, business development manager, DLP Catalog Products at TI.

“Developers have been requesting for years that we make the technology available for applications outside of projectors and HDTVs,” says Chhabra. “With the series of DLP Discovery development kits, we listened to our customers and provided them a tool to utilize DLP technology in their own applications. Now we are beginning to see a number of customers in emerging spaces announce products based on DLP technology.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany used DLP technology to develop an augmented astronomical telescope that overlays long-exposure, high-resolution images of the skies onto the optical image plane of an amateur telescope. DLP technology is used to project the overlaid image onto the optical image plane while satisfying the high-contrast requirements of the telescopic system—a helpful aid to astronomy education that provides a richer viewing experience.

At the SIGGRAPH 2007 conference, the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) in collaboration with FakeSpace Labs used DLP technology to demonstrate a 3-D auto-stereoscopic holographic display viewable from 360 degrees. The researchers projected imagery at 5,000 individual frames per second on to a spinning reflector to create an interactive, 3-D light field of a rendered object.

In the realm of direct imaging lithography, also called maskless lithography, DLP technology eliminates the recurring high expenses related to developing and storing photo-sensitive masks during the manufacturing process. In PCB manufacturing, the maskless approach uses DLP chips to project UV light onto a PCB surface to mark out the circuit patterns, thereby “direct-imaging” onto the board without the need for a photo-sensitive mask. Several significant equipment players such as DNS, FujiFilm, and Hitachi have begun to migrate their systems to maskless PCB lithography machines using DLP technology and its lower cost of ownership.

In the medical market, the Vein Viewer system by Luminetx (Memphis, TN) is deployed in U.S. hospitals and uses DLP technology and near-infrared light to project the pattern of veins onto the skin for easier injections.

In the 3-D structured lighting or 3-D optical measurement domain, GFM and Vialux (both in Germany) develop products that project light patterns onto physical objects and produce a 3-D point cloud of the object based on reflections from the object. For example, the 3-D point cloud of fish moving along a food processing assembly line can be used to ensure that exact 12 oz. volume portions are cut and packaged. Structured lighting based biometric scanners are another example where light is projected onto users passing through an area and the reflections of physiology like facial structure are passed back to recognition software.

DLP technology is experiencing growing interest in the optical networking market as well. Developers of reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexers (ROADMs) such as Nistica use the MEMS-based DLP chip as an optical switch to add or drop channels of subscribers using the flexibility of the independently controlled mirrors on a DLP chip.

In all these cases, customers demanded flexibility in addressing different wavelength and resolution requirements as high as 1080p (a shorthand display industry notation for progressive scanning of 1920 x 1080 pixels). The development kit includes the DLP chipset, a field-programmable gate array, a variety of resolution capabilities, and is packaged as a kit that plugs in via a universal serial bus (USB) connector to a personal computer. The user can manipulate the mirrors on the chip to reflect or absorb light as dictated by the high-speed binary light pattern that is fed to it. The new DLP Discovery 4000 development kits are available in a variety of resolution and wavelength configurations ranging from $4,999 to $15,999 suggested retail price.

—Valerie Coffey

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