ZKW and partners develop new micromirror modules for dynamic light functions
Cooperation with Silicon Austrian Labs, Evatec, EV Group and TDK Electronics advances light projection technology
Together with research partners Silicon Austrian 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 around two axes by means of piezoelectricity and enables a laser beam to be directed specifically and precisely. In the future, this will enable smart lighting functions for vehicles, such as the projection of symbols (for example arrows) and warnings onto the road, or flexible, adaptive vehicle lighting. This technology can be used in front lights, rear lights or as side projection, as well as in LIDAR systems for optical distance measurement. “Micromirror could be a strategically important key technology enabling new automated lighting functions for autonomous driving. The goal of this so-called ‘smart road lighting’ is to make vehicles smarter, safer and more interactive,” explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
Within the framework of the research cooperation, which was launched at the beginning of the year, the partners contribute their respective core competencies. Silicon Austrian Labs (SAL) contributes research expertise and offers microelectronics manufacturing capabilities. TDK is responsible for development of piezo-enabled materials and related expertise. EVATEC provides the necessary technical equipment and machinery. The EV Group is a leading supplier of nanoimprint equipment with extensive process know-how. ZKW, in turn, is concerned with the possible applications of the technology. The aim is to achieve the highest possible resolution of projected light functions in order to increase road safety. The Wieselburg-based lighting systems specialist is currently working on two prototypes that combine the micromirror chip and the necessary electronics in a single lighting system.
Wide range of applications
Piezoelectric micromirror technology offers several key advantages: On the one hand, it requires only low voltage and little current, but delivers high power. In addition, the development is highly flexible, enabling a variety of applications for automotive lighting systems. With micromirror systems that can be integrated at any position on the vehicle, symbols, images and even videos can be projected onto the road. Practical applications range from crosswalks made of light that signal priority to pedestrians, to precise LIDAR distance measurement, to projection of warnings onto the road. “Micromirror technology makes it possible to use light to communicate with road users. The system supports the next steps toward autonomous driving,” Schubert is convinced.
Together to the goal
With the combined expertise of its partners, the micromirror project is a model for cross-disciplinary research and collaboration. Dr. Martin Eibelhuber, Deputy Head of Business Development EV Group, says: “The integration of optics and electronics poses new challenges for manufacturing technologies and devices. We aim to enable new process capabilities for mass production.” Ralf Eichert, managing director, senior vice president Evatec Europe GmbH, says, “We will use our know-how to accelerate the development of the required thin-film production processes. In doing so, we will focus on high-performance piezoelectric coatings that enable precise positioning of micromirrors.”
Describing the added value of the collaboration, Dr. Mohssen Moridi, head of Microsystem Technologies research at Silicon Austria Labs, said, “Working with some of the best semiconductor equipment suppliers allows us to address the current challenges of mass producing high-performance piezo thin films as the core of our micromirror and push the boundaries of nanoimprint technology to achieve better optical performance. Together with our industrial partners, we can bring the developed piezo MEMS module to mass production in the shortest possible time. SAL’s unique expertise in MEMS, optical systems, electronics and system integration makes us a one-stop store for our partners.”