Ultrafast Imaging using Quantum Technologies (ULTRA-IMAGE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


Vision is arguably the most important of our senses and our most direct channel of interaction with the surrounding world. It is no surprise therefore that so much of the technology that affects our everyday lives relies on light in one form or the other. The continuous strive to improve our light sources, ranging from lasers for research purposed to ambient lighting technologies is paralleled by a continuous increase in efforts to improve our imaging capabilities, ranging from artificial vision implants to hyperspectral imaging.
An exciting and emerging imaging technology relies on the ability to detect remarkably low light signals, i.e. even single photons. This same technology, based for example of Single-Photon-Avalanche-Detectors (SPADs) comes hand in hand with another rather unexpected and also remarkable feature: incredibly high temporal resolution and the ability to distinguish events that are separated in time by picoseconds or less. This temporal resolution is obtained by operating the SPAD in so-called Time-Correlated-Single-Photon-Counting (TCSPC) mode, where the single photons are detected in coincidence with an external trigger and then electronically stored with a precise time-tag that, after accumulating over many events, allows to precisely identify the photon arrival time.
These technologies are now relatively well established and are routinely employed in research activities, mainly associated to quantum optics measurements and time of flight measurements. However, these detectors are all single pixel detectors and thus do not allow to directly reconstruct an image in much the same way that a digital camera with a single pixel will not create an image. Workaround solutions have been adopted; for example a laser may be scanned across an object and the single pixel records intensity levels for each position of the laser beam.
However, our obsession with the pixel-count in our latest digital camera clearly explains the paradigm shift in going from a single pixel detector to a multi-pixel detector and eventually to high resolution imaging.
ULTRA-IMAGE aims at demonstrating a series of applications of very novel SPAD technology: for the first time these detectors are available in imaging arrays. This is an emerging technology that will represent the next revolution in imaging and we will have first hand access to each technological breakthrough in SPAD array design, as they occur over the next few years.
We are currently employing 32x32 SPAD arrays and will be using the first ever (at the time of writing) 320x240 pixel array, which is able to deliver the first high quality spatially resolved images. The remarkable aspect of these detectors is that they still retain their picosecond temporal resolution therefore enabling a series of game-changing and remarkable technological applications that are not even conceivable with traditional cameras.
As examples of the potential of this new imaging technology, we will utilise our SPAD cameras to visualise the propagation of light and perform time-of-flight detection of remote objects in harsh environments (the FEMTO-camera), to enable of the real-time tracking of objects hidden from view (the CORNER-camera), and to perform the first quantum measurements using low-rep rate, high-power lasers (the QUANTUM-camera). The solutions we will develop are enabled by four key features: first, the single-photon sensitivity of silicon detectors; second, the spatial resolution provided by the arrayed nature of the detectors; third, the precise picosecond and femtosecond timing resolution; and fourth, the ultra low-noise performance of gated detection.


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Description This project is still ongoing. We have already supplied our partners at Heriot-Watt University with single photon sensitive cameras enabling them to see light in flight and moving objects round corners. This has resulted in high profile Nature papers and YouTube videos achieving around 300k hits.
Our current research focusses on developing cameras with 50x more pixels capable of ranging at greater distances and operating outdoors.
Exploitation Route The findings of the project have already generated considerable commercial interest from the defence industry which are being pursued.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Security and Diplomacy
Description We have been employing SPAD sensors in novel ways to look at distance and velocity. The results are documented in a number of journals and conference proceedings. In particular these findings are informing applications in defence (looking round corners) generating strong interest in DSTL, Qinetiq, Leonardo and related partnership projects (particularily for Heriot-Watt). Other aspects of our work on the study of fast velocity capture is feeding into current interest in LiDAR for driverless cars and is of particular interest to STMicroelectronics (a PhD student has been sponsored in this area). Our work on high resolution SPAD timing cameras has shown pathways towards small SPAD pixels for 3D image capture (a topic of key interest to STMicroelectronics and feeding into advanced technology development in the recent ENIAC-POLIS project).
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic