Diode lasers are the type of everyday lasers most common in the world outside factories, labs, and doctors' offices. Energy efficient, compact and relatively cheap, diode lasers are the kind used in laser pointers, barcode scanners, DVD players, and other consumer electronics.
Previously, the drawback of diode lasers has been that they're relatively weak. Attempts to intensify the beams usually results in a significant drop in focus and accuracy.
But now, a group of scientists -- formerly of MIT's Lincoln Laboratory -- have found a way to combine the forces of several smaller diode laser beams into a single beam capable of cutting through up to a half-inch of steel. They're calling it the TeraBlade.
"[The TeraBlade] has comparable beam quality as compared with traditional manufacturing lasers, such as carbon dioxide, disk, and fiber," explained Robin Huang, who helped invent TeraBlade and co-founded the company TeraDiode. "However, because the TeraBlade is a direct-diode laser, it has the highest efficiency and lowest cost of ownership as compared with these other lasers."
TeraDiode is already selling its products to industries in Japan and Germany, where energy costs are high. Eventually, Huang says he hopes his company can find ways to incorporate its innovation into the defense industry -- perhaps by developing a compact laser defense system that could be mounted on fighter jets.
"More broadly, our vision is to revolutionize the laser industry," Huang said. "The sky is the limit -- literally."