Robots are no longer the subject of Sci-Fi films or classified military research. At the risk of sounding dramatic, they now live among us––although not as we once might have believed. The robotics industry is multi-faceted. It helps to streamline surgeries, aid militaries, and drive vehicles, among other things. And photonics products are at the heart of many robotics products. We’ve compiled six surprising photonics applications and related Photo Solutions products. 


The robotics industry and robotics

A Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) event in 2015 highlighted a major problem in the robotics industry. “Robots are increasingly being designed for applications that call for autonomy and adaptability, beyond the safe and predictable confines of repetitive assembly-line tasks.” Five years later, there are more robotics applications than ever. Most of which need incredible precision. In many iterations of robotics, “dexterity is a major stumbling block.” That’s where photonics comes in.

Photo Solutions is in the business of crafting precision engineering solutions. And our photonics products are pieces of larger engineering puzzles. Products like encoder discs and reticles help aid surgeries or power aerial drones. Therefore, the six applications we’ve detailed in this article show the synergistic relationship between robotics and photonics.


Application 1: Robotic Surgical Instruments

What if we told you photonics can save lives? If you or a loved one has ever had to undergo a complicated surgery, you know the critical impact technology can make. Robotic surgery instruments aid surgeons and make surgeries more precise––thereby saving lives. 

Products like da Vinci aid surgeons with a console, monitor, and joysticks. This setup allows the surgeon to carry out operations more steadily and precisely than they could do unaided.” Imagine the difference this accuracy could make in everything from eye to heart surgery. 

Robotic surgical instruments debuted in 1985. Because of advancements in optical technology, they’re now safer than ever. Above all, the success of these robots relies on the precision of the photonics products that drive them. And both work together to make surgeries more successful. 


Application 2: Autonomous Vehicles 

Most of us have seen companies like TESLA showcasing autonomous vehicles in recent years. They seem somewhat futuristic (and more than a little unnerving). Autonomous vehicles are, in fact, another instance of photonics used in robotics. 

Of the products used, LIDAR is applied the most in autonomous vehicles. LIDAR is a remote sensing method that uses light detection and ranging. The ride is smoother with time-of-flight sensors and rotary encoder discs for beam steering. Photonics products also help these vehicles with data communication between the different technologies used.  


Application 3: LIDAR

LIDAR’s role extends beyond autonomous vehicles. “LIDAR technology is an essential ingredient in robotic autonomy and navigation.” In other words, it helps robots with their ability to see. Photonic products’ role in LIDAR again includes precision parts that enhance engineering solutions. Other examples of LIDAR include using light for detection and ranging and 3D elevation maps. To process the amount of data required, they need “multiple optical components.” Which includes lasers, optical encoder discs, mode converters, and optical waveguides.


Application 4: Manufacturing Robotics

If you think about it, the manufacturing industry makes sense for robotics. To be able to produce more items within a shorter time can increase profitability and efficiency. Manufacturing robots often do “laborious and repetitive tasks, so humans can be freed up to do more creative and meaningful work.” To achieve their accuracy, they use photonics and related services, like micromachining. 

One such real-world application is from a clothing brand called SoftWear. The company “built a sewing robot that can handle soft fabrics—something that robots typically find hard to do—by using a specialized high-speed camera to keep track of individual threads.” Photonic components help these robots complete menial and repetitive work. 


Application 5: Military Robotics  

The military is another photonics-meets-robotics application. According to Photonics Media, “military robots provide critical search and data-collection functions above ground and underwater, reporting hazards to keep forces safe.” And it’s a growing industry. Reports show a 13% increase through 2027 in the global military robotics market. For instance, robotics like unmanned aerial vehicles, range-finding gear, and sound detection equipment all need a blend of optics and acoustics systems. 


Application 6: COVID Helpers 

When the novel coronavirus surged in the States, groups scrambled to find ways to combat the virus and keep surfaces clean. In early April 2020, MIT researchers began working on an autonomous robot UV disinfectant. The robot’s use? It could clean huge warehouses or stores in as little as thirty minutes. With “ultraviolent germicidal irradiation” driven by photonics, the robots helped combat COVID.


Custom applications for photonics products 

We have thirty years of global experience in the photonics industry. No matter what your custom application is, the robotics industry calls for a variety of photonics products, some of which include:  


Encoders Discs and Encoder Scales

At Photo Solutions, encoder discs and scales are one of our specialties. We have created custom tooling and production processes for mission-critical designs. And we offer precision manufacturing in various encoder materials. Which includes glass, quartz, film, aluminum. As with our other products, we welcome custom design projects. 


Hub and Disc Assemblies

Another specialty of Photo Solutions is hub and disc assemblies, with many options available for reflective PET discs. And because robotics applications require exactness, we tolerance our Swiss screw machined hub bores at +.0005”/-.0000 with the disc pattern concentricity to < .001. In addition, we bond to actuators, gears, flywheels, and other assemblies with protective removable liners for easy installation to your product.


Calibration standards 

Custom calibration targets allow for optimal accuracy across a variety of applications. Our team uses photolithography to create precise edge features for accurate calibration. So you can rest assured that your product is performing as it should. 



Another custom product we provide is reticles. The robotics industry uses these materials for aiming, targeting, or measuring. In addition, we use your drawing to create CAD data to image custom artwork on glass, Mylar, or aluminum substrates.


Photonics applications for robotics and beyond  

For over three decades, we’ve perfected our products for a variety of photonics applications. Whether you need a photonics solution for the robotics industry or beyond, we craft accurate and efficient products to your specifications. Contact us today to get started!