02. November 2021
SAL Develops New Micromirrors for Dynamic Light Functions
In cooperation with the research partners Silicon Austria Labs, Evatec, EV Group and TDK Electronics, ZKW is working on “micromirror” technology. This microelectromechanical system (MEMS) consists of a chip with integrated, microscopic mirror mechanics. The micromirror can be pivoted along two axes by piezoelectricity, enabling pinpoint guidance of a laser beam.
In future this will enable vehicles to be fitted with smart lighting functions, such as projecting symbols (arrows, for example) and warnings onto the road surface, and with flexible, adaptive vehicle lighting. This technology can be used in both front and rear lamps or as lateral projections and in lidar systems for visually gauging ranges. “Micromirror could be a strategically important key technology that makes new automated lighting functions possible for autonomous vehicles,” explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group. “The aim of this so-called ‘smart road lighting’ is to make vehicles more intelligent, safer and more interactive.”
The project partners are contributing their own particular core competencies to the research cooperation that was launched at the start of the year. Silicon Austria Labs (SAL) provides experience of research and offers the possibility of microelectronics manufacture. TDK is responsible for developing the piezo-compatible materials and the expert knowledge to go with them. EVATEC supplies the requisite technical appliances and machinery. The EV Group is a leading supplier of nanoimprint systems and possesses extensive process know-how. ZKW focuses on the technology’s potential applications. The aim is achieve projected lighting functions with the highest-possible resolution as a way of improving road safety. The specialist in lighting systems based in Wieselburg, Lower Austria, is currently working on two prototypes that combine the micromirror chip and the necessary electronics in one lighting system.
The piezoelectric micromirror technology has several key advantages: on the one hand it requires only low voltage and small amounts of electricity, but nonetheless delivers a high output. In addition, its development is highly flexible which opens up a wide array of applications in vehicle lighting systems. Micromirror systems can be fitted anywhere on a vehicle and can be used to project symbols, images and even videos onto the road. Practical applications range from zebra crossings made of light that signal to pedestrians that they have right of way to precise measurement of distances using lidar and the projection of warnings onto the carriageway. “The micromirror technology makes it possible to use light to communicate with other road users,” says Schubert, who is convinced that “The system supports the next steps towards self-driving vehicles.”
ACHIEVING SUCCESS TOGETHER
By pooling the expertise of the partners, the micromirror project serves as a model of cross-disciplinary research and cooperation. Dr. Martin Eibelhuber, deputy head of business development at the EV Group, says, “The integration of optics and electronics presents production techniques and machinery with new challenges. Our aim is to enable new process capabilities for mass production.” Ralf Eichert, CEO and senior vice president, Evatec Europe GmbH, adds: “We will exploit our expertise to speed up development of the requisite thin layer production processes. Our focus here is on piezoelectric high-performance layers that make precise placement of micromirrors possible.” Dr. Mohssen Moridi, head of the microsystem technologies department at Silicon Austria Labs, describes the additional benefits brought by the cooperation as follows: “Cooperating with some of the best semiconductor suppliers enables us to tackle the current challenges facing mass production of high-performance thin piezo layers as the core component of our micromirror and to enhance the capabilities of nanoimprint technology in order to improve optical performance. Together with our partners in industry we can start mass production of the piezo MEMS module we have developed extremely quickly. SAL’s unparalleled expertise in the fields of MEMS, optical systems, electronics and system integration makes us a one-stop shop for our partners.“