Innovation ignores economics

June 1, 2002
The telecommunications "bubble" brought with it a tidal wave of change to the world of optoelectronics. In just a year or two (or so it seems now), our industry evolved from relative obscurity to one that was routinely front-page news from Stockholm to Sydney.

The telecommunications "bubble" brought with it a tidal wave of change to the world of optoelectronics. In just a year or two (or so it seems now), our industry evolved from relative obscurity to one that was routinely front-page news from Stockholm to Sydney. Like moths to a flame investors chased one "golden opportunity" after another; and at the peak of the bubble revenues from telecom-related laser sales exceeded those of all other laser applications combined (see Laser Focus World, January 2001, p. 88). As we know, that all changed during 2001: the bubble burst and a worldwide economic downturn took its toll—telecom is still routine front page news but now with a very different twist as the optoelectronics companies and their investors try to figure out what's next.

With this in mind I was intrigued to see that the number of firms exhibiting in March at the Optical Fiber Communications conference in Anaheim was up by 257 (26%) over last year, and an informal poll of my colleagues confirms my own impression that the flow of new-product releases has also not been stemmed by the doom and gloom on the financial side of the business. More recently, organizers of September's European Conference on Optical Communication (ECOC) announced a significant increase in the number of companies that have reserved exhibit space in Copenhagen. The good news then, is that the engine of innovation driving research and development of new telecom technologies and products is running smoothly, apparently unhampered so far by the industry's severe financial woes. This is also good news for the many other photonics technologies routinely covered by Laser Focus World, which have been unavoidably affected to varying degrees by fallout from the telecom business.

Among these other photonics technologies are holographic optics, which are currently being used by NASA for a lightweight scanner in an airborne lidar system (see p. 141; CMOS detectors, which are now well established in photographic applications (see p. 107); and infrared imaging, which can provide real-time passive obstacle detection for military aircraft and is highlighted on this month's cover (see p. 75). Other innovations include the use of planar technology to integrate optical devices and provide an alternative to fiber amplifiers (see p. 101) and the potential development of near-infrared quantum cascade lasers (see p. 85). If the current pace of innovation continues we should all be well positioned to take full advantage of the economic recovery when it happens.

About the Author

Stephen G. Anderson | Director, Industry Development - SPIE

 Stephen Anderson is a photonics industry expert with an international background and has been actively involved with lasers and photonics for more than 30 years. As Director, Industry Development at SPIE – The international society for optics and photonics – he is responsible for tracking the photonics industry markets and technology to help define long-term strategy, while also facilitating development of SPIE’s industry activities. Before joining SPIE, Anderson was Associate Publisher and Editor in Chief of Laser Focus World and chaired the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar. Anderson also co-founded the BioOptics World brand. Anderson holds a chemistry degree from the University of York and an Executive MBA from Golden Gate University.    

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