Powering innovation with photonics

May 31, 2023
The Directed Energy Research Center (DERC) at Abu Dhabi’s Technology Innovation Institute (TII), in the United Arab Emirates, is an emerging global center of excellence in optics and photonics.

We live in an era of accelerating growth and disruption, and advanced technologies will empower us to handle several of the 21st century’s evolving complexities. Nanoelectronics and photonics are among the key enabling technologies of our time, together with artificial intelligence (AI), advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, life science technologies, and security and connectivity. These are driving the development of digital goods and can open new areas for growth and industrial competitiveness, create new jobs, and usher in new products and services.

Photonics has the potential to transform several industries, including healthcare, telecommunications, and renewable energy. Today, photonics systems from lasers to sensors are central to autonomous transport, quantum technologies, real-time digital services, and 3D printing solutions. Photonics can enhance the precision and accuracy of medical equipment, aid more rapid disease detection and treatment, enable faster data transfer rates, boost optical data communications and imaging, and increase the efficiency of solar cells.

Photonic integrated circuits are a promising technology for neural networks and allow us to build energy-efficient computing units. Such technologies form the basis for machine learning and AI systems that perceive their environment and can adapt their behavior by analyzing the effects of previous actions and working autonomously.

As a technology whose scope of application continues to grow and expand, photonics is a hot topic of interest for the world’s most advanced nations in the prevailing geopolitical landscape. Why? Primarily due to its potential to achieve strategic autonomy through energy sovereignty while addressing the threats of climate change and ensuring business competitiveness.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is making progress within photonics. Falcon Eye 2, the countrys first hyperspectral satellite, was launched in 2020, and it uses advanced photonics to capture high-resolution images of the Earths surface.

Leadership in photonics will give the country control of future capabilities and security of technological supplies—no matter how uncertain the supply chain—and help it to make informed decisions in applying this technology for the greater good. Neglecting this technology at this time, however, could mean we will be dependent on other countries for innovation and supply.

The photonics industry is a cornerstone of the UAE’s journey to an innovation-driven knowledge economy, as it provides the foundation to shape and strengthen multiple other technologies, applications, and capabilities responsible for fast-tracking the country’s emergence as a digital-first economy. Photonics contributions to medicine, healthcare, transportation and road safety, telecommunications, and even climate change mitigation and sustainability are key priorities in our innovation roadmap and are well aligned with the country’s industrial strategy.

At the Directed Energy Research Center (DERC) at Abu Dhabi’s Technology Innovation Institute (TII), an emerging global center of excellence in optics and photonics, among other specialized focused areas, we’re driving the country’s incremental efforts within this space.

In less than three years since opening, we’ve launched a UAE-made miniaturized Raman spectrometer device for material sensing in the field. Our photonics microwave-generation system also has important use cases in sensing, communications, and computing. We’ve developed a vortex beam-generation platform for future remote sensing and communications platforms that’s immune to atmospheric turbulences. A lightweight prototype of an integrated photonics system-on-chip for sensing, communication, and computing applications is also garnering attention.

As a new member of the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC), DERC and TII were delighted to recently welcome a delegation from EPIC to our center for a series of technical workshops and presentations. The peer networking opportunity indicates the UAE’s growing prominence in photonics and underscores its potential to become a key enabler of photonics solutions.

With 2023 named the UAE’s Year of Sustainability and in the run-up to hosting the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in November, this is the perfect time to invest in photonics that can support the country’s Net Zero ambitions through direct power generation with flexible high-efficiency photovoltaics to enable a seamless integration of solar power into buildings and infrastructure. At the same time, it can also aid in indirect power generation with reduced downtime and improved wind mapping—photonics will provide a 1.5 to 2% increase in efficiency of wind turbines in existing and new facilities. The circular economy is also reliant on photonics, thanks to the rapid optical identification and labeling of materials and components to enable tracking.

The UAE needs to continue to intensify its R&D focus and encourage wider collaboration between academia, industry, and the government to take advantage of this significant opportunity. By working together, we can develop solutions that address the real-world challenges before us and bring together researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors to promote innovation and commercialization in photonics. Education and training will also need to march in step as crucial cogs in driving this journey.

About the Author

Chaouki Kasmi | Chief Researcher, Technology Innovation Institute (TII) Directed Energy Research Center

Chaouki Kasmi is the chief researcher for TII’s Directed Energy Research Center (Abu Dhabi, UAE).

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