HORIBA Scientific has created Time-Correlated Single-Photon Counting (TCSPC) electronics to support QuantIC’s research into real-time computational 3D imaging and Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR).

This research has the potential to result in faster, better quality and lower-cost 3D imaging for applications that include autonomous vehicles, machine learning, security and surveying.

The TCSPC electronics developed for QuantIC is a modified version of HORIBA Scientific’s DeltaHub, which is typically used for single-photon Time of Flight (TOF) and counting data acquisition applications in scientific research programmes.

For QuantIC’s programme, which is based at the University of Glasgow, the Field Programmable Gate Array within a standard DeltaHub was reprogrammed to process 20,000 TOF histograms per second, from which 3D images are derived.‌‌‌‌

Professor Miles Padgett, QuantIC’s principal investigator and vice-principal for research at the University of Glasgow, said: “The high data acquisition rate of the HORIBA Scientific electronics is the essential component in a single-pixel camera demonstrator we built earlier this year and which, at a range of up 10m, has already produced a 3D depth resolution with millimetric precision.

“This is an important breakthrough in the development of photon-counting LiDAR.”

Unlike a conventional camera, where each pixel in the image is measured by a corresponding pixel in the detector, a single-pixel camera uses only one pixel to measure the whole image.

The addition of HORIBA Scientific technology turns a 2D camera system into a 3D one, thanks to the high accuracy of the TOF measurements.

Professor Padgett said: “When a scene is illuminated using a short-pulsed light source (laser), the detector needs to detect only a few back-scattered photons to allow accurate 3D images to be obtained, which can be useful for long-range imaging as well as imaging when light is scattered – when there is fog, for instance.”

Also core to the 3D single-pixel camera approach is a Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) for the provision of time-varying structured illumination (of the scene to be ‘viewed’), optics for the expansion and steering of the pulsed laser, and a picosecond photomultipler (PMT) module (also supplied by HORIBA Scientific) for the collection and detection of the back-scattered photons.

QuantIC is now looking to explore if alternative sampling strategies can be employed to further improve the frame rate and is also interested in collaborating further with industry to carry out demonstrations in other scenarios.

The prototype demonstrator was exhibited to industry for the first time at the UK Quantum Technologies Showcase in London on November 9.