ECE Seminar Series: FMCW laser systems

Dennis Derickson
Professor of Electrical Engineering
California Polytechnic State University
Via Zoom Presentation
Asst. Prof. Shiva Abbaszadeh


This talk concentrates on applications of tunable semiconductor lasers in the Frequency Modulation Continuous Wave (FMCW) mode of operation. FMCW systems can be used to get information on reflectivity as a function of distance. Two FMCW laser applications will be discussed;

The first application uses a widely wavelength tunable laser to get 10 micron distance resolution over a relative narrow range of distances in the cm range. This FMCW application is often used in Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT).

The second application uses a narrow wavelength tunable FMCW laser that has cm resolution over a wide range of distances of one to several hundred meters. This FMCW application is used in automotive systems as an example.

The talk will focus on describing how these two FMCW applications work and then demonstrates how one measures the required attributes of the FMCW laser transmitter.


Dennis Derickson recieved his BS, MS and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from South Dakota State University (1981), the University of Wisconsin- Madison (1982) and the University of California – Santa Barbara in 1992. His farming background and youth ham radio hobby heavily influenced his career in engineering. In farming and agriculture, he earned his State Farmer degree (Minnesota) with the FFA organization. In the world of radio he received the extra class amateur license (AC0P) and a first-class radiotelphone commercial license. He joined the research and development laboratories of Hewlett Packard (HP) in Santa Rosa, CA in 1982. 1980‘s project development activities included spectrum analyzer and network analyzer electronic measurement instrumentation. His Ph.D. work (1988-1992) involved design, fabrication and test of single-chip pulsed semiconductor lasers for data communication applications. Dr. Derickson managed multiple project teams at HP for high-speed communication test systems in the 1990s. He moved into the director of product marketing role at a start-up company called Cierra Photonics in Santa Rosa, CA in 2000. After 21 years in industry, he joined the Electrical Engineering Department at California Polytechnic State University in 2005 and has been department chair since 2010. Research activities have focused on FMCW applications of semiconductor lasers and wireless communication systems. He is a founding member of the start-up company Insight Photonics Solutions that is commercializing research initiated at Cal Poly. His outreach activities have focused on creating and running summer science camps and robotics programs for Jr. High and Sr. High groups. As EE department chair from 2010-2020 he has focused on Industry/Alumni/Partner outreach, entrepreneurship, enabling a project-rich hands-on environment for diverse students, and supporting a strong graduate program.

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