Abstract

We present a novel laser-based distance measurement technique that uses multiple-image-based spatial processing to enable distance measurements. Compared with the first-generation distance sensor using spatial processing, the modified sensor is no longer hindered by the classic Rayleigh axial resolution limit for the propagating laser beam at its minimum beam waist location. The proposed high-resolution distance sensor design uses an electronically controlled variable focus lens (ECVFL) in combination with an optical imaging device, such as a charged-coupled device (CCD), to produce and capture different laser spot size images on a target with these beam spot sizes different from the minimal spot size possible at this target distance. By exploiting the unique relationship of the target located spot sizes with the varying ECVFL focal length for each target distance, the proposed distance sensor can compute the target distance with a distance measurement resolution better than the axial resolution via the Rayleigh resolution criterion. Using a 30 mW 633 nm He–Ne laser coupled with an electromagnetically actuated liquid ECVFL, along with a 20 cm focal length bias lens, and using five spot images captured per target position by a CCD-based Nikon camera, a proof-of-concept proposed distance sensor is successfully implemented in the laboratory over target ranges from 10 to 100 cm with a demonstrated sub-cm axial resolution, which is better than the axial Rayleigh resolution limit at these target distances. Applications for the proposed potentially cost-effective distance sensor are diverse and include industrial inspection and measurement and 3D object shape mapping and imaging.

© 2014 Optical Society of America

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