In optical metrology synchronous phase-stepping algorithms (PSAs) estimate the measured phase of temporal linear-carrier fringes with respect to a linear-reference. Linear-carrier fringes are normally obtained using closed-loop, feedback, optical phase-stepped devices. On the other hand, open-loop phase-stepping devices usually give fringe patterns with nonlinear phase steps. The Fourier spectrum of linear-carrier fringes is composed of Dirac deltas only. In contrast, nonlinear phase-shifted fringes are wideband, spread-spectrum signals. It is well known that using linear-phase reference PSA to demodulate nonlinear phase stepped fringes, one obtains a spurious-piston. The problem with this spurious-piston is that it may wrongly be interpreted as a real thickness in any absolute phase measurement. Here we mathematically find the origin of this spurious-piston and design nonlinear phase-stepping PSAs to cope with nonlinear phase-stepping interferometric fringes. We give a general theory to tailor nonlinear phase-stepping PSAs to synchronously demodulate nonlinear phase-stepped wideband fringes.
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