Laser Focus World | March 30, 2010
Boston Micromachines develops DoD-funded free-space communications retro-reflector
Cambridge, MA – Boston Micromachines Corporation, a provider of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)-based optical products for wavefront control systems, developed a modulating retro-reflector (MRR) for asymmetric free-space covert communication and remote sensor integration. Developed in conjunction with Boston University's (Boston, MA) (www.bu.edu) College of Engineering, the compact, portable, ultralow-power, and lightweight MRR was developed for the United States Army. See also "NASA chooses Boston Micromachines for two Phase I space-imaging projects".
The MRR allows for long range ground and air-based communication and can be used in a variety of military and non-military applications including battlefield communications, naval situations such as ship-to-ship, and satellite-to-ground station data transfer.
"Optical communication has emerged as a critical need for military operations in situations where conventional radio frequency (RF) channels could be disrupted or unavailable for use," said Paul Bierden, president and CEO of Boston Micromachines. "Our MRR technology is ideal for situations where conventional free-space optical communication hardware cannot be supported due to its size and power consumption. Using extremely low power, our MRRs could be deployed in remote locations, where it would be difficult, if not impossible, to position a traditional optical communications node. Also, weighing only 9 oz., our MRRs could be positioned on a person, soldier or elsewhere, allowing for covert, secure communication."
Boston Micromachines' MRR employs its MEMS modulator mounted in a hollow corner cube retro-reflector for passively reflecting and modulating an interrogating laser source. The modulator mirror is controlled using new resonant, power scavenging high-voltage drive electronics that are capable of 24-hour continuous operation at 180 kHz data rates on a single 9 V battery.
Development for the MRR was funded by an award from the Department of Defense (DoD) through the Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR).