We propose an interferometric method for measuring absolute distances larger than the wavelength. A laser diode is used as a light source. The principle of operation is based on multiple-wavelength interferometry that uses a modulated light source. This method uses the fact that the wavelength of light emitted by the laser diode can be varied by means of the injection current. The modulation of the injection current in combination with the optical heterodyne technique causes a high-frequency phase-modulated detector signal. The phase deviation of the signal is a measure of the optical path difference in the interferometer. By FM demodulation of the detector output with a phase-locked loop demodulator, the optical path difference can be determined directly without the classical ambiguity problem of interferometry. The measuring range in the experiments was limited to 50 mm by the maximum travel range of the used specimen translation stage. Because of the inherent light sensitivity of the method described, the rangefinder can be used for three-dimensional profile measurements on a wide variety of objects, even on diffuse scattering surfaces.
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