The two applications shifting views of photonics

May 6, 2024
Recent conferences have demonstrated new interest in two areas of growing potential: the use of photonics in medicine and space communications.

Photonics technologies are taking the world—and all of its industries—by storm. That’s not hyperbole; it’s fact. Recent estimates have predicted the global photonics market value will exceed USD$1 trillion by 2032. When considering that photonics integrates with, enables, and/or supports powerhouse technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), data mining, quantum computing, and more, it comes as no surprise that its global impact continues to climb.

These market demands continue to push boundaries, creating new opportunities for photonic applications to address global problems. In fact, recent conferences have demonstrated new interest in two areas of growing potential: the use of photonics in medicine and space communications.

Advancements in medicine

At the 2024 SIEPR Economic Summit, Jensen Huang, CEO of NVIDIA, spoke about the intersection of AI and healthcare. He focused on the role AI can play in harnessing the stories that align with vast amounts of biological data. With its power for aligning data points, AI, when applied to biological information, creates opportunities for drug discovery, personalized medicine, home healthcare, and much more.

These big ideas prompt work in photonics today, and efforts to marry emerging solutions like AI with photonic technologies have already been launched. Consider, for example, how the scientific and engineering communities are applying AI for data interpretation in medical imaging. Already, analysts are predicting that the AI in medical imaging market will surpass USD$8 billion in the next six years.

The lynchpin to success here lies in photonics, which emerges as a key player in both early diagnosis and effective treatment. Coupling AI for data evaluation with photonic technologies will allow for more accurate disease detection, targeted therapies, surgical precision, and personalized dosing. But it’s not a far-flung future that addresses these concepts: Photonic techniques for more precise medical imaging already being employed by leaders in the field, and Optica’s upcoming online industry meeting, Cancer Diagnostics and Treatment, will unpack the latest developments in the areas of cancer support.

Space-based communications

While healthcare applications pack a big punch, other research areas demand the attention of the photonics community. Perhaps one of the most notable is space-based communications. A long-held dream for the industry, laser-driven space communications are advancing from research labs to real-world commercial deployment. While in its naissance, analysts expect the market to reach nearly USD$10 billion by 2033.

That upward trajectory has already begun. At Satellite 2024, leaders dove into the operational nuances of inter-satellite laser link systems. They discussed the challenges of atmospheric laser links and the pioneering methods in industrial Optical Ground Segment design, including advanced turbulence mitigation techniques. Their findings proved that what’s next in space-based communication is taking shape now; what once was an otherworldly idea has advanced closer to reality.

These themes also came out in Optica’s February online industry meeting on New Space (replay here). That event began exploring realistic business opportunities in this environment. From global partnerships driving advancements to the integration of satellite and ground-based communication networks, possibilities continue to emerge in this space, accelerating its road to commercial viability.

Changing the view

So, while with photonics much is possible, these new developments have proved that much is probable. With the examples of medicine and space communication as a guide, reality becomes, “If one can dream it, photonics can do it.” Now, it’s up to the community to embrace a shift in perspective and continue to identify new ways to make the impossible possible with photonics.

About the Author

Jose Pozo | Chief Technology Officer, Optica

Jose Pozo joined Optica in March 2022, and has spent more than 25 years working in photonics. He earned a PhD in quantum physics from the University of Bristol (U.K.), and an M.Sc. and B.Eng. in telecom engineering from UPNA, Spain / VUB (Belgium). Prior to joining the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) in 2015 as CTO, Jose was a Senior Photonics Technology Consultant with PNO Consultants, with some of the main accounts such as CERN, Thales, and TE Connectivity. He has worked at TNO, The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, and as a postdoctoral researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, where he contributed to the early development of EFFECT Photonics.

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