Nalu Scientific received the $120,000, six-month Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) federal grant to design and build SWELL – the Single-photon-sensitive Waveform Enhanced and Lightweight LIDAR system. LIDAR uses reflected laser light to measure distance and scan surfaces and objects.
“Future NASA scientific missions will require remote sensing equipment with lower power, smaller form factors, increased robustness, and higher sensitivities,” explains Nalu Scientific founder and CEO Isar Mostafanezhad. “Adapting LIDAR’s receiver into a ‘system-on-chip’ would achieve these goals and represent a significant advance across numerous applications.”
SWELL will be based on Nalu Scientific’s low Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), which enable high precision time measurements down to a picosecond (one trillionth of a second) using special built-in digital signal processing and control interfaces. For NASA, SWELL could boost LIDAR applications by taking extremely precise time of flight (ToF) single-photon measurements of back-scattered laser light pulses.
The SWELL project is led by Dr. Ben Rotter, staff physicist at Nalu Scientific, who is in charge of the technical aspects of the project. Dr. Rotter received his Ph.D. in physics from the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“SWELL could be used in LIDAR imaging systems deployed in high orbit, or in high-precision and low power imaging sensors for planetary missions,” Rotter says. “Our technology can also be applied to other industries, such as orbital geospatial mapping.”
Nalu Scientific’s SWELL was among 363 proposals selected from across 41 states to receive a portion of $41 million awarded in NASA’S SBIR program this year. The company was additionally selected alongside 21 other teams for NASA’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) 12-week Bootcamp program, created by the National Science Foundation to develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem.
"We are excited about the entrepreneurial, innovative ideas that these small businesses are bringing to the table,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), said in a statement. “The technologies show great promise in helping NASA achieve its objectives across all mission areas, including our efforts to send American astronauts to the Moon, and then on to Mars, while also providing a long-term boost to the American economy.”
Intended to stimulate technological innovation in the private sector, the SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs encourage small businesses and research institutions to develop innovative ideas that meet the specific research and development needs of the federal government. As these ideas become reality, the program supports the commercialization of research results and encourages participation of socially and economically disadvantaged persons and women-owned small businesses.
This latest award comes after Nalu Scientific received a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in June to develop an Ultrafast Pixel Array Camera (UPAC) to make physics research more accessible and affordable. Since its founding in October 2015, Nalu Scientific has received over $2.5 million across half a dozen grants for its expertise in cutting edge electronics.