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Is it a phone? No it's a laser measurement device

29 April, 2012

Pioneering new miniature laser technology which could revolutionise a future generation of mobile phones has been developed by a manufacturing business in the United Kingdom.

A tiny new micro laser, which weighs only 43 grams and measures 36x39x20 so it could be incorporated into mobile phones to give them an eye-safe laser measurement capability, has been developed by UK laser measurement technology specialist, Measurement Devices Ltd.

Powered by a standard USB connector, the tiny Micro Laser Module (MLM), believed to be the smallest in the world, requires less than 70 mA to make hundreds of measurements a second of objects within a 120-metre radius and is now being marketed to original equipment manufacturers some of which MDL hopes will develop the software and interface so the micro technology can be applied to different products.

MDL founder and chairman, Steve Ball, a former Yorkshire mines surveyor, said: "Twenty years ago it needed a box the size of a biscuit tin to accommodate the laser technology which could measure objects within 100 metres every few seconds.

"After that we developed new techniques and software to enable a laser the size of a cigarette packet to measure up to 500 metres, 50,000 times a second. This is where the technology is today and they are used in rock mapping, dynamic mobile mapping and aircraft altimetry."

Steve Ball says that after he set technicians at the business a challenge to make the technology smaller and able to run on less power, they developed the MLM.

He adds: "There are many potential applications for the MLM with an obvious one being for them to be integrated into mobile phones which have evolved technologically so they are so much more than their name suggests and now incorporate good-quality cameras.

"While mobile phone cameras are proportionally correct, the next stage would be to enable them to give users the ability to instantly calculate the size of an object and deliver the data on screen.

"The mobile phone industry has to continue adding new features to sell new models to people who already possess a mobile phone and incorporating a micro laser such as ours could add an important new facility which would mean that people working in many industries, such as civil engineering, construction and surveying, would no longer need some types of hand-held laser technology as they would be able to use their mobile phone. We are still in the early stages but the potential is huge."

MDL, which also has offices in Scotland, England, Canada, Texas, USA and Melbourne, Australia, has two operating divisions: Sensors, which designs and manufactures generic time-of-flight laser distance meters and Systems, which designs and manufactures laser-based positioning and 3D-scanning products.

The business is active in markets including quarrying, civil engineering, mining, marine and automotive.

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Frank | Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 7:00 AM
When does a phone stop being a phone and start being a personal computer with phone capability (among others)? Sounds very large for a laser diode, is it a micro gas laser?