Inventors at Digital Signal Corp. of Springfield say they have improved a new high-technology laser tool and widened its potential applications.
Digital Signal has applied for a patent on its laser radar. According to Frank E. Goodwin, the company's vice president of product development:
The laser system could allow manufacturers to inspect every part of their products completely, greatly increasing quality while decreasing the price.
Remote-controlled military tanks could be developed with the ability to "see" in three dimensions and therefore move and fire their weapons with greater precision.
Security systems using laser radar could have unprecedented accuracy in differentiating between real intruders and harmless ones, such as birds, for example, and in identifying those intruders.
Laser radar has been in use for some time in tactical military operations, but Digital Signal's development uses a semiconductor diode as the source of the laser beam instead of a tube containing ionized gas. Lasers using a semiconductor diode are smaller, simpler, lower-priced and more reliable than so-called gas lasers, according to Goodwin.
"We are using the coherent or wave-like properties" of the laser beam generated by the semiconductor diode to obtain greater precision and speed in measurement than has been possible using gas lasers, Goodwin said.
Digital Signal plans to have a radar demonstration model that will scan in one direction ready in two or three months, and to add two- and three-dimensional capabilities as early as next year if the company obtains additional research funds. This would be the first three-dimensional radar that also could act as a vision system, Goodwin said.
The company has formed a joint venture called Digital Optronics Corp. with Acme-Cleveland Corp., a machine-tool producer, to develop and market industrial vision products based on laser-radar technology. Among the applications would be giving robots enhanced vision, allowing them to perform tasks with more precision and to conduct rapid inspection of parts during and after manufacturing. Digital Signal also is working with other companies on additional commercial applications, including security surveillance and other military and space uses.
Before joining Digital Signal, Goodwin spent 25 years with Hughes Aircraft Co., most recently as chief scientist of the electro-optic and data systems division. This year he received the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Century Award for his contributions to laser and radar technology.
Digital Signal's president, Richard L. Sebastian, spent 13 years at Ensco Inc., a high-tech firm just down the street from Digital Signal, most recently as vice president for research. He and Goodwin formed Digital Signal in July 1983 to adapt sensors that were being used in Defense Department projects for use in industrial automation.
"Richard posed to me the problem that was facing the industry: precision, noncontact gauging," Goodwin said. This means using an instrument to make precise measurements without it touching the object it is to measure.
Digital Signal is a privately held company with 20 employes. Although laser radar is its first solo venture, the firm also works on product development for other companies. First-year sales were $1 million, and Sebastian expects 1985 sales to top $2 million.
"We're looking at a billion-dollar market" by 1990, Sebastian said. "We feel that it's possible to build $100 million" in sales for the Digital Optronics venture in five to seven years. He also said that Digital Signal probably will double its work force over the next year.
Goodwin said one of the keys to the company's laser-radar technology is single-mode fiber optics -- in which signals travel down one path of a glass fiber and arrive intact -- which allows the machinery to be compact as well as to deliver more precise signals.