STTR Phase I: Smart and Fast Atomic Force Microscope for Imaging and Characterization

Period of Performance: 07/01/2017 - 06/30/2018


Phase 1 STTR

Recipient Firm

RHK Technology Inc.
1050 E. Maple Road Array
Troy, MI 48083
Firm POC, Principal Investigator

Research Institution

Oakland University
2200 N. Squirrel Rd
Rochester, MI 48309
Institution POC


This Small Business Technology Transfer Phase I project represents a change in concept and technical paradigm for Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) technology, and as such shall significantly impact research and development in both industry and academia. As discussed in the Technical Merits below, the proposed AFM is fast, smart, and more powerful in terms of imaging and probing local mechanics. The company has a track record of commercializing AFM controllers that are compatible with most all types of scanners, commercial and home-constructed. Current AFM users can purchase the new scanner and/or controller to attain the enhanced performance. In addition, new AFM users are also anticipated especially in the areas of nanomaterials, devices and sensors, and multidimensional devices and materials where both high spatial and temporal resolutions are paramount. Further, the combined high spatial resolution in conjunction with fast speed shall result in immediate advances in the fields of material development, surface coating, nanomaterial and nanodevice inspection and quality control, nanolithography, and tissue engineering. Based on current market trends, sales are anticipated to reach $25M within the first three years. The amount is likely higher given the forecasted growth of the global microscopy market. The intellectual merit of this project includes three cutting edge improvements to current AFM: (1) faster image acquisition speed; (2) automated and rapid feature finding and tracking; (3) 1-2 orders of magnitude of improvement in speed and efficiency in nanomechanical imaging. The ultra-high speed will be achieved by implementing a novel reconfigurable processor optimized for AFM into a unique hybrid, low-noise controller architecture, which is highly versatile and compatible with various known configurations of AFM microscopes from many different vendors. In addition, the automatic feature finding and tracking functions will be accomplished using artificial intelligence directly in hardware and a novel scan pattern, completely different from current ?trace-retrace? scanning trajectory in current AFM. These new and ?smart? approaches further speed up scanning and tracking speed. Finally, the AFM will be able to produce nanomechanical images with high speed and accuracy using multifrequency spectroscopy. This concept has been proposed, and individual aspects have been demonstrated in isolation through simulations or lab prototypes over the past five years or more. The faster and more powerful electronic controller shall enable the test and implementation of multifrequency spectroscopy technology in its full potential.