My ten fearless predictions for 1999

This January issue is the one where we traditionally offer the Review and Forecast of the Laser Marketplace (see p. 81). With the help of many people in the industry and the magazine`s editorial staff, Executive Editor Steve Anderson makes his carefully reasoned projections for laser sales in various markets for the current year. I thought I`d add my ten fearless predictions for the last year of this millennium. Some of my predictions are quite serious and others are more tongue-in-cheek.

My ten fearless predictions for 1999

Jeffrey Bairstow

This January issue is the one where we traditionally offer the Review and Forecast of the Laser Marketplace (see p. 81). With the help of many people in the industry and the magazine`s editorial staff, Executive Editor Steve Anderson makes his carefully reasoned projections for laser sales in various markets for the current year. I thought I`d add my ten fearless predictions for the last year of this millennium. Some of my predictions are quite serious and others are more tongue-in-cheek.

So here we go, in no particular order. I think this year will see the first commercial blue-emitting laser diodes, which will most likely be gallium nitride and operate at room temperature. Japan`s Nichia Chemical is clearly the front-runner and I don`t expect that position to change.

There`s no doubt that we`ll see a lot more work involving Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC), following the pioneering efforts of Wolfgang Ketterle and his associates at MIT. Expect to see at least a dozen Ph.D. theses on the subject of BEC. The whole field of nanokelvin physics is very exciting basic research that is still a long way from practical application.

The commercial application of ultrafast lasers (femtosecond pulses) will probably not occur in 1999, although work on all-solid-state amplified ultrashort-pulse laser systems appears to hold promise. Ultrafast systems have demonstrated their value in the laboratory, but they still require too much care and feeding to be useful in an industrial setting.

This year will see the advent of semiconductor devices made with sub-0.1-micron optical lithography. A decade ago, pundits were predicting the demise of optical lithography with the advent of sub-micron feature sizes. It hasn`t happened yet, and there`s no shortage of deep-UV sources that can emit around 193 nm.

Watch for a big battle in medical laser systems. Opponents are girding to end the patent domination of VISX and Summit in the ophthalmology field. This industry has long been rife with litigation but there are signs that the Federal Trade Commission is becoming more open to challenges of medical laser patents.

The most exciting development of the decade in the display field has been the advent of organic light-emitting devices (OLEDs). Look for the first electroluminescent devices to appear this year. Also there`s a possibility that we`ll see practical organic injection lasers. The Europeans are well positioned in OLEDs--if only they can solve the production problem.

Don`t hold your breath waiting for the OSA/SPIE merger. The task force recommendations (see Laser Focus World, Dec. 1998, p. 164) will be put to a vote of all the members of both societies. A small majority of the SPIE membership will be in favor and a small majority of the OSA will be against. The inconclusive results will stymie the entire process.

Researchers in the flat-panel-display field are quick to jump on the smart-pixel bandwagon. Look for increasing integration of processors and optical devices on a chip. There`s some very interesting work in the use of smart-pixel arrays to develop spatial light modulators using wavelet transform architecture. IBM is providing much of the backing, an indicator of potential commercial application.

Bell Laboratories is busily trumpeting every tiny step in the development of the "bow-tie" laser, a variant of the cascade laser. As output powers increase, these microdisk lasers will become practical for communications systems. I would not be surprised to see commercial application in 1999.

Of course, everybody in telecommunications is scrambling to produce dense wavelength-division-multiplexing (DWDM) devices.There will be significant advances in the gain bandwidth of erbium-doped fiber amplifiers that will be capable of handling around 200 channels. These devices, allied with dispersion-compensated fiber, promise to make long-distance transmission dramatically cheaper.

As Senior Editor John Wallace so ably demonstrated last month in his 1998 Technology Review (Laser Focus World, Dec. 1998, p. S3), the pace of product development in optoelectronics is becoming ever faster. Making predictions in this market is fraught with hazards. It`s quite possible that, by the time you read this, some of my "fearless predictions" will have become a reality. Whatever happens in the areas I`ve picked out, I would not be surprised to see my expectations exceeded.

Jeffrey Bairstow

Group Editorial Director

[email protected]

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