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Super-Pixels: Redefining the way we sense the world.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Super-Pixels (Super-Pixels: Redefining the way we sense the world.)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2020-02-29

We observe the world around us predominantly through the measurement of optical intensity. Although powerful, this leaves the other fundamental optical degrees of freedom, phase and polarisation massively under-utilised. Our tendency to solely use intensity results from the static sensor technology that is available, which offer very limited ability to dynamically reconfigure their function or perform any optical processing. In SuperPixels we will co-develop a new integrated sensor platform that will revolutionise the way we process light to allow the full utilisation of its fundamental properties. Redefining the core functionality of our sensor technology will radically impact the technology that is deployed in a broad spectrum of cross-disciplinary areas such as nano-particle detection, compact atmospheric corrected imaging systems, endoscopy, coherent communications and on-chip processing of structured light. This vision will be enabled by a compact and multi-functional photonic integrated chip that would be installed into phones, microscopes, cameras, communication and environmental monitoring systems, becoming a central part of the way we collect and process optical information.

In SuperPixels, we will create an integrated photonics device that is based on a mesh of several hundred Mach-Zehnder interferometers, which will be used to dynamically map phase and polarisation, with the ability to fully transform any incident optical field. A revolutionary prototype system will be delivered that will partner our SuperPixels chip with a commercially available camera to enhance its functionality within a single frame of a camera. This prototype will support a number of potential applications that include visualising normally invisible nano-particles through phase mapping, imaging through multimode optical fibres, reconfigurable quantum communication links and mapping of airflow and particulates through phase and polarisation retrieval.

We will develop a new sensing platform that can be built into every optical device we use. We expect this technology to drastically change the landscape of research in many of the areas where non-standard camera technology is central, including biomedical imaging and quantum level systems. As the technology matures, we envisage our smart pixels being integrated alongside camera technology in cell-phones and cameras for adaptive imaging.
The first year of the SuperPixels has been an exciting and challenging, where a considerable number of early successes have built a strong foundation for the future tasks within the project. Over the last year we have formalised a global team of researchers, who are working collegiately to tackle the broad range of challenges within our ambitious project. A key point of collaborative work has been the design of the first fully functional SuperPixels chip. This chip is currently being manufactured and will be available for experimental implementation across the whole consortium from May 2020. Comprehensive feasibility studies were completed to assure the SuperPixel will have the required functionality, which led to the design of novel grating couplers, non-standard pixel layouts and tailored mesh structures. These studies have not only benefited the project, but also have led to novel works that have result in submitted manuscripts to the highly respected journals that will appear in the public domain during 2020.
Year one has had a core focus on the platform development for the SuperPixels chip. We have completed a broad range of task that will advance the state of the art in integrated photonics to facilitate the manufacturing, control and deployment of game changing imaging technologies of the future. We have successfully delivered a process for the growth and processing techniques for visible-light compatible integrated photonics chips that is a critical achievement that will not only directly support the SuperPixels project but will have broad application in a large range of optical technologies. We have also development a range of advanced control strategies for large networks of Mach Zehnder Interferometers (MZIs). The SuperPixels chip architecture will require the production and control of many 100’s of MZI and the foundational techniques have been successful demonstrated, which is a considerable push beyond the start of the art. Our consortiums successes in both of these areas are foundational for the future success of the SuperPixels Project and will broad impact in their own right.

Uniquely in SuperPixels, we wish to instigate a paradigm shift in the use of integrated photonics chips for free-space optical applications such as imaging. This has led to various interesting and challenging questions. Through analyses of our intended end user applications, we have developed novel routes to free-space coupling based on novel multi-component optical systems. These approaches have led to the successful completion of core deliverable that builds on the technical foundations to support the future project tasks.

This new technology platform and the re-thinking of the way we image will kick start a new industrial sector in smart imaging that Europe is uniquely placed to lead. There is already a critical mass of researchers in the areas of spatial mode enhanced sensing and communication systems that will provide an extensive collaborative network for future projects.