Competition, Collaboration Fuel US Photonics Industry

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Photonics production in the U.S. is a multibillion dollar industry. Programs such as the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics), as well as developments in technology are helping to fuel the market. Industrial competition between the U.S. and Europe is another market driver, as companies work to develop the most advanced, novel products, components and systems.

Experts see photonic integrated circuit (PIC) technology at the center of some of the competition. AIM Photonics, the European Silicon Photonics Alliance, and the Joint European Platform for Photonic Integration of Components and Circuits all provide similar platforms for R&D, as well as industry and technology advancement. Companies are all working toward the same ends — higher-capacity systems and data centers, smaller products and components, and lower costs, among others — and are working to reach these goals first.

Competition also exists within the academic realm, which actually proves advantageous for the industry, as it drives rapid advancement in research and in the field.

Competition does fuel initiatives. But research and product development, collaboration and sharing of knowledge and resources amongst companies and those in academia will ultimately further advance the photonics industry.

EuroPhotonics spoke recently with industry veterans working in the U.S. and Europe about technology trends worldwide, and how both competition and collaboration are fueling global advancement. They are:

John Bowers, Ph.D., deputy CEO of AIM Photonics; professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB); Fred Kavli Chair in Nanotechnology at UCSB; and director of the Institute for Energy Efficiency. Bowers is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of IEEE, OSA and the American Physical Society.

Jose Pozo, Ph.D., director of technology and innovation for the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) and member of the board of the IEEE Photonics Society Benelux.

Q: What are some notable R&D trends and advancements in the U.S.?

Bowers: The biggest trend is toward higher-capacity systems and higher densities. Data centers have moved from 10- and 40-Gbps modules to 100-, and soon 400-Gbps modules. The need for smaller size and lower cost is driving photonic integration. The need for lower power consumption is also driving photonic integration to lower the coupling losses between optical elements.

The [push] for lower cost is driving migration to silicon substrates, with major efforts at Intel, Cisco, Juniper, Huawei and other companies. This is driving the development of foundaries in the United States, Europe and Asia, including with AIM Photonics, Imec, IME and others.

Pozo: [Among notable trends are] new technologies for in vivo imaging, especially OCT; lidar for automotive and defense applications; low-cost high-volume manufacturing of silicon photonics; and indium phosphide PICs, including packaging. Specialty optical fiber for sensing in harsh environments is also trending in R&D.

How are R&D efforts in both the U.S. and Europe impacting overall industry advancement?

Bowers: There are many examples of joint research efforts. We worked closely with Lionix to develop low-loss waveguides and use them for a variety of applications, including optical gyroscopes, true time delay and optical contention resolution. We work closely with Imec on heterogeneous integration via bonding, and we work with University College London on the development of quantum dot lasers.

Both approaches are leading the effort to integrate lasers and optical amplifiers with other elements on silicon.

Pozo: The biggest competition in R&D in photonics between the U.S. and Europe is happening in the field of PICs. AIM Photonics in the U.S., ePIXfab (European Silicon Photonics Alliance) in Europe, and JePPIX (the Joint European Platform for Photonic Integration of Components and Circuits). These platforms provide the industry with affordable fabrication, including packaging of novel PIC-enabled products.

In regard to R&D work and efforts, what competition exists between the U.S. and Europe? Is this hindering industry advancement?

Bowers: Obviously industrial competition exists, but most of the companies are multinational so it is less about the U.S. versus Europe than it is about one company and another. Academic competition exists, as well, but in all cases, competition is probably driving the rapid advancements in the field.

UCSB and University College London have had a series of advances over the past decade in heteroepitaxy of III-V compounds on silicon, with the result that the threshold currents have dropped by an order of magnitude, powers have gone up by an order of magnitude, and now lifetimes have increased by an order of magnitude.

Pozo: A clear example of collaboration being enabled is between AIM Photonics in the U.S. and PIXAPP (Photonics Public Private Partnership) in Europe … PIXAPP is the world’s first open-access PIC assembly and packaging pilot line, and helps users exploit the breakthrough advantages of PIC technologies. PIXAPP consists of a highly interdisciplinary team of Europe’s leading industrial and research organizations, and provides users with single-point access to PIC assembly and packaging.

The PIXAPP Pilot Line Gateway office, located at Tyndall National Institute in Ireland, is the easy-access interface for external users. PIXAPP bridges the “valley of death” often associated with moving from prototyping to low-volume fabrication, by giving companies an easy access route to transferring R&D results to the market.

AIM Photonics brings together the United States’ premier capabilities and expertise to capture critical global manufacturing leadership in PIC technology. AIM supports small and medium enterprises, providing practical access and technology on-ramps for the U.S. industry, government and academic communities. There is hence a clear synergy between both organizations, especially since one of the unmet needs for the development of PIC-enabled products is the lack of standardization in both the packaging and testing of PICs.

Strong efforts are being taken in order to bring both platforms together. One is the World Technology Mapping Forum, which is organized by Photon Delta, an international professional membership organization based in the Netherlands covering the entire integrated photonics ecosystem. At this forum, experts from the U.S., [Europe] and the rest of the world discuss synergies and common unmet needs, with the goal of developing a common roadmap for PIC technology.

Published: October 2017
quantum dots
A quantum dot is a nanoscale semiconductor structure, typically composed of materials like cadmium selenide or indium arsenide, that exhibits unique quantum mechanical properties. These properties arise from the confinement of electrons within the dot, leading to discrete energy levels, or "quantization" of energy, similar to the behavior of individual atoms or molecules. Quantum dots have a size on the order of a few nanometers and can emit or absorb photons (light) with precise wavelengths,...
USEuropeJohn BowersUniversity of California Santa BarbaraIEEEOSAAmerican Physical SocietyEuropean Photonics Industry ConsortiumIEEE Photonics Society BeneluxAIM Photonicsphotonic integrated circuitsPICR&DUniversity College Londonquantum dotsLasersePIXfabEuropean Silicon Photonics AllianceJePPIXJoint European Platform for Photonic IntegrationPIXAPPPhotonics Public Private PartnershipPIXAPP Pilot Line GatewayTyndall National InstituteWorld Technology Mapping ForumPhoton DeltaFeatures

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