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Posted by Daniëlla van Laarhoven on 08-08-2017 9:04 AM

Future of data-traffic depends on integrated photonics

Categories: Brainport region, Technology

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Brainport Eindhoven Region in the Netherlands: frontrunner in integrated photonics

Internet- and telecom companies are deeply challenged by the explosive growth of data traffic in the near future. These companies have pinned their hopes on photonics in order to accommodate future internet- and data traffic. The Netherlands is a frontrunner in photonics. The Dutch Brainport region is specialised in the integration of photonics. Estimations are that the new technology will probably lead to thousands of jobs in the region for highly qualified professionals in the next ten years.

Photonics is a fast evolving technology that uses miniscule laser beams or light parts (photons). This technology can be used in a wide range of applications and technologies, such as computers, lasers, leds, solar cells, Virtual Reality and optic chips. Photonic chips can reach a much higher data speed and are much more energy sufficient.

Current chip technology cannot keep up with future data-traffic

Integrated photonics is concerned with microchips that are based on light signals and built into devices. Until very recently, microchips were exclusively micro-electronic chips using electrical signals. Photonic microchips have the advantage of being faster and more energy efficient which means that devices can work longer on their batteries. This can lead to significant power savings in datacentres and that is exactly what is needed for the highly demanding data traffic and data usage within ten years. Moreover, integrated photonics offers opportunities for totally new functionalities, as for example sensoring, in a lot of other fields such as the automotive, lifetech and the food industry.

Photonics appointed Key Enabling Technology by the European Commission

The European Commission has recognized Photonics as one of six Key Enabling Technologies that provide the basis for innovation within the European Union and thereby have the potential to fuel economic growth and provide jobs. About 160 photonics companies are situated in the Netherlands and -according to research done by management consultancy bureau Berenschot- the only photonics sector that can lead to an explosive growth in jobs within ten years is situated in the Brainport Eindhoven region. Estimations in the Berenschot research are that 7,000 highly qualified jobs will be created in photonics in the next ten years.

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A lot of research into integrated photonics

Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) does a lot of research into the field of integrated photonics mainly at the Institute for Photonic Integration. The university has developed so-called PICs, Photonic Integrated Circuits, or in other words optic circuits at chip level. Two of the three standards for platforms on which photonics are applied, and that are currently conquering the world, also have been developed in the Netherlands. It concerns indiumfosfide and siliciumnitride, which have been branded: Triplex. The third standard: silicon photonics, was developed by Europe’s greatest research institute Imec (Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre).

Photon Delta

Several stakeholders in the Brainport Eindhoven region have joined forces in Photon Delta in order to achieve the growth of a new ecosystem in the field of photonics. These stakeholders include Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), the companies SMART Photonics and Effect Photonics and research institutes Cobra, JePPIX and Nanolab@TUe. The Photonics Institute, operating inside Photon Delta, has an important role within Photon Delta. Director and TU/e professor Ton Backx says:. "Now that a lucrative multi billion dollar market arises, it is important not only to maintain our lead, but to actually make it cashable."

The research section, based on the TU/e campus, already includes about 300 scientists. Backx: "My estimate is that there will be jobs for at least 300 more scientists and developers at the research section within five years. Studies show that the current world market for photonics in full width is 600 billion euros. That market will grow strongly in 2025 and pass the 3,000 billion. The market for integrated photonics, the trump card of the Brainport region, will be as big as 50 billion euros in 2020 and will then also grow strongly."

First photonic chip on the market

One of the companies in Photon Delta and TU/e spinoff, EffectPhotonics, recently already succeeded in marketing its first photonic chip. A chip which is based on the so-called ‘system-on-chip’ technology. Implementing photonics chips in the senders and receivers at the beginning and end of optical fibre cables allows telecom companies to exchange data-traffic with a much greater bandwidth and a very low power consumption at low costs.

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SMART Photonics

Another important TU/e spinoff in the integrated photonics ecosystem is SMART Photonics. It is the world's first pure-play foundry for Indium Phosphide photonics. The company provides expert advice and assistance on making photonic integrated circuits without claiming IP. It had recently opened a pilot line on the High Tech Campus Eindhoven.

Photonic integrated circuits in semiconductor industry

Another company that is interested in the developments in the field of photonics is chip machine producer ASML which is also situated in the Brainport Eindhoven region. As it takes increasing effort for the semiconductor industry to position accurately while producing miniscule and more powerful chips without undermining precision, deformation (that can arise/occur due to thermal effects) has to be measured at subnanometer level. While traditional mechanical approaches are reaching their limits, photonic integrated circuits (PICs) enable this more accurate measuring. This makes photonics interesting to the multinational company.

Brainport has advance in integrated photonics

Photonics finds its origin in the Brainport region at the well-known multinational company Philips. The company played an important part in the development of the practical application of integrated photonics. Think for instance about the lasers that are used to burn and read CD’s and DVD’s. During the sixties Philips started research activities into, among others laser developments. This gave the Brainport region a great advance in this technology.

Are you interested in reading more about photonics or other key-technologies you can find in the Brainport Eindhoven Region? Or do you want to find a job at one of the companies in the region? Then register for the Brainport talentBOX and your profile will automatically be matched with suitable vacancies at companies in the Brainport region.

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