Even though photonics may appear to be a field reserved to engineers, the truth is that it has wide ranging applications in a number of domains. The world of photonics encompasses every technology composed of a laser, a mirror, a lens or even a simple source of light. We’ve highlighted the three main categories that are at the intersection of photonics and our daily life. Enjoy!
1. Behind what you watch
Photonics is the science powering all screen technologies. Photonic innovation allowed your TV to get thinner while simultaneously improving its image resolution and your smartphone’s design to be bezel-less. Behind these breakthrough findings in applied research are centers such as CEA-leti on LCD, OLED and more recently micro-LEDs. These technologies will deeply improve the future of virtual reality and augmented reality systems. New photonics technologies also make better and more affordable microscopes used by doctors all around the world (Cf. Leti lens-free microscope).
Barry Silverstein, research scientist manager at Oculus VR sharing his insights on how future photonics technologies will drastically improve VR/AR experience.
2. How machines see
The booming autonomous vehicle industry is driven by the reduction in size and cost of LIDAR technologies (laser-based machine vision). Researchers also use extremely precise devices that allow them to see the structure of molecules and conduct experiments on them. New laser based imaging systems can even provide ultra precise 3D based images. Finally, one ubiquitous consumer application of photonics is the technology powering your smartwatch’s pulse measurement with a green or red LED.
Machine vision technologies have grown in importance over the past few years as processing power has drastically increased, unleashing the full potential of precise and data-greedy sensors. Machine vision is possible thanks to a number of complementary actors (i2s, SILIOS or ISP System just to name a few).
3. Increasing the speed of information
Optical fiber, the technology used to transfer information between continents through oceans has evolved tremendously, allowing us to get ultra high speed internet in our cities. French startups like CAIlabs (Impact 2017 Alumni) are working to accelerate this trend by improving performance. As innovation continues, miniaturized versions of this technology will emerge, in some cases even replacing the copper used on electronic circuit boards.
4. Lasers: the cutting revolution
The advances made by the industrial manufacturing industry over the past few decades were due in large part to photonics technologies. Laser cutting and welding technologies drastically increased the productivity of automotive, electronics and even apparel industries. Among the many players in this field, the French company Amplitude Systèmes distinguishes itself with its range of fiber lasers.The medical applications of these technologies has enabled the democratization of laser-based eye surgery. There are plenty of potential military uses for high powered lasers as weapons, including Lockheed Martin’s ATHENA, which focuses on destroying military drones.
With more than 1,300 exhibitors, SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco is the world’s largest photonics technology event. France was well represented, with 50 very qualitative companies exhibiting, 24 of whom were present on the French Pavillon.
Aside from the technical and business support that these companies benefited from, Business France also organized a visit to Coherent, the number one laser company in the world based in Santa Clara. The companies had the chance to spend the day with Dr. Norman Hodgson, Vice President of Engineering and Advanced Research, who shared the fascinating work they are accomplishing in the field.