A new area of laser applications is developing that could bring lasers into every phone, car, and household. Smartphones, laptops, drones, robots, and cars increasingly embed functions to map the 3D space around them, for reasons of navigation, augmented reality and/or virtual reality (AR/VR), or identification. All these devices require new sensors onboard, providing a measurement of the distance to the objects in their environment and hence creating 3D environmental data and maps.
Applications range from proximity sensing in phones and observation of humans and objects in a few meters distance, up to light detection and ranging (lidar) systems in autonomous cars resolving small obstacles more than a hundred meters ahead. Laser-based measurements are the method of choice, combining high accuracy with a compact form factor. The wide field of applications and the consumer nature of most markets make vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) a good laser source for providing the illumination in 3D sensing.