Towards the end of the 18th century, the IEEE’s precursor (IEEE Lasers and Electro-Optics Society) wrote a journal titled “Photonics Technology Letters.” Since this first mention of photonics in publication, the industry has been at the forefront of countless innovations. That said, we’re exploring emerging photonics trends that continue to push boundaries and drive innovation across industries.
Photonics Trends From The IEEE and Beyond
Photonics is a core technology for dozens of industries. With rapid growth across these industries, photonics and optical components have naturally evolved. Before discussing the top photonics trends, it’s worth noting the current state of the photonics market.
As of last year, the market was valued at 722 billion dollars with expected growth to reach 1,089 billion dollars by 2027. In part, photonic’s growth and popularity is due to its value across dozens of verticals and the demand for emerging technologies such as Lidar. The reports show—and we’ve witnessed as a company—that this demand is increasing across North America and Europe.
Just as we did when we first started, we often turn to the IEEE for news and discourse on emerging trends in our industry. These are the top seven trends in the photonics industry that we’re watching for 2023.
Trend 1: Photonic Sensors Across Industries
When looking at the photonics market as a whole, photonic sensors take up a fairly large piece of the pie (about 16 percent or $29 billion). Sensors have wide-ranging applications from automotive and industrial to healthcare and aerospace. One of the biggest increases we’ve seen over the years is with Lidar technologies. And as autonomous driving systems become more mainstream, we predict the need for precise photonic sensors to increase as well—in addition to growing sensor technologies like silicon photodiodes.
Another trend we’re seeing is with fiber optic sensors, particularly in the energy sector. These sensors are increasingly incorporated into measuring and monitoring applications, some of which have implications for pollution and waste. By nature, sensors identify parameters such as density, depth of cut, and thermal stress, which can be applied in everything from energy to manufacturing. Over the last few decades, sensors have only become more precise, which has been used to increase safety, efficiency, and overall high-quality standards across industries.
Trend 2: Photonics Trends In Quantum Tech
Quantum photonics and related technologies have been big topics of discussion in recent years—most particularly in the conference circuit but also with clients. Quantum tech consists of devices that can process and detect quantum states of light and matter with complexity and precision.
In 2022, we saw the first World of Quantum event during the Laser World of Photonics. The coinciding study outlined the implications of increased adoption of quantum technology to include quantum sensors (where photonics comes into play). These sensors can drastically improve medical diagnostics, drive GPS-free navigation, and even “lead to the quantum Internet via the intermediate stage of local quantum communication network.”
Trend 3: Silicon Photonics
Speaking of communications, many of the photonics trends we’re watching most closely have to do with communications and electronics. Silicon photonics is arguably leading the way. By using silicon as the optical medium, these optoelectronics are particularly useful for high-bandwidth, low-cost, and long-distance communications.
With this trend, we’re seeing silicon photonics applied to data communication most frequently by way of optical transceivers—enabling a “whole new level of broadband.” We’re also seeing photonic integrated circuit (PIC) and lidar system-on-chip (SOC) concepts that use silicon photonics for applications from autonomous vehicles to biomedical sensors and wearable tech.
Most projections show the silicon photonics market to increase from $152 million to $972 million by 2027.
Trend 4: Neurophotonics and Other Photonics Trends in Medicine
At Photo Solutions, we’ve served the medical industry and medical device market for decades. For many devices, precision photonics are life saving. One of the biggest trends to emerge in this field recently is that of neurophotonics. This study uses quantum units of light to study brain processes and functions at the cellular and molecular level.
This discipline is often referred to as the interface between photonics and neuroscience. In practice, it includes non-invasive methods that use infrared light to monitor brain function. Of course, light-based technology in medicine is not new in and of itself, but this more targeted approach to neuroscience is certainly a trend that we expect to grow in the coming years.
Another of the photonics trends we’re watching in the medical field (and a recent IEEE topic!) is that of biophotonics. This study uses highly precise optics to detect and diagnose disease before medical symptoms occur. These light-based technologies include optical tagging, cellular diagnosis, and optical endoscopes. Additionally, therapeutic biophotonics uses light for disease treatment. Both of which have potentially enormous positive consequences.
Trend 5: Laser Advancements
Laser technology has seen several significant innovations over the years. However, it wasn’t until the last three decades that this technology moved from the lab into commercial applications. Now, this tech is used in everything from surgery and lithography to electronics and industrial manufacturing.
In the optoelectronic and photonic device fields, laser advancements have resulted in directly modulated lasers (DMLs) that deliver unprecedented performance. The current trend is a higher demand for DMLs to perform at higher speeds using high-performance waveguides that move lasers through these narrow channels.
We also see a change in the laser market, with a growing need for “short pulse applications” that use flexible laser systems and various beam sources—all of which require extremely precise optics.
Trend 6: Machine Vision & AI
Machine vision is one of the critical components in automating processes, particularly those in manufacturing and assembly. As automation increases across industries, machine vision—with the help of artificial intelligence (AI)—will be more necessary than ever.
Traditionally, the assembly markets need active and passive fiber optic components. Active uses semiconductor laser technology, whereas passive operates the light passing through the fiber (without power). The rising trend, however, is with machine learning applications using ultrafast photonics. These interactions take place in shorter time scales and at higher speeds, making processes more efficient.
Many of these advancements are thanks to ‘smart photonics’ and AI, which have made machine vision (and machine learning) more accurate than ever. In the coming years, we expect the relationship between AI and photonics to continue to grow for applications across industries from cyber security to image-recognition software.
Trend 7: Biodegradable Photonics
Of all the emerging photonics trends, biodegradable photonics has perhaps the longest-lasting positive implications. Biophotonic devices have been used for years for therapy and clinical diagnostics. Implanted photonic devices have used biodegradable materials for reabsorption and patient safety. Often, this tech uses cellulose as its biodegradable polymer of choice. However, trends show that using pure cellulose blended with nonedible nano-wastes can be more effective in humid environments and can maintain high-quality refractive properties.
While biodegradable photonics in the medical field has been fairly commonplace, another emerging trend is biodegradable components in electronics, such as personal sports and wellness devices. Although relatively new, we predict this trend will have wide-ranging applications across industries.
Keeping Up With Photonics Trends
At Photo Solutions, we’ve always prided ourselves on staying informed on photonics trends and how they might impact our company and clients. These top trends are some that we’re most excited about and believe will have the greatest impact on the future of optoelectronics—in addition to improving systems and quality of life for many. If you have an innovative idea and need a custom solution, our team of experts is ready to talk.