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What just happened in Brabant?
Update September 29th 2017: The second WTMF will be held at the University of Twente, Enschede, Eastern Netherlands from June 20th-22nd 2018. Please mark these dates in your calendar. If you’d like to follow those developments between now and then, sign-up here for the free WTMF Newsletter.
This article below was originally published on June 20th 2017.
The Takeaway - Very fruitful kickoff
Last week just over 170 scientists, researchers, government representatives and high-tech industry experts from 17 countries converged on the Dutch city of s’Hertogenbosch. They came to discuss next generation technologies the world is going to need in 2030 and beyond. That’s important now because we’re reaching the economic end of what’s popularly known as “Moore’s Law”. And particles of light (photons) rather than electrons will be the engine driving many new applications in communications and life sciences that we’ll soon take for granted.
This is a world technology roadmapping excercise, the first time that so many high-level photonics specialists have sat together in the same room. They represent all aspects of the photonics industry from Asia, the America's, the Pacific and Europe. They're starting the process of putting together a technology road map pointing to the technologies that people think are going to be important a decade from now. Because to succeed, devices need to be manufactured in very large quantities if they’re going to address various challenges ahead.
The people invited here are all experts in their field. I noted a different granularity to the engagement by industry that we typically find in the USA, which is dominated more by the big companies. There seems to be a lot more innovation going on here in The Netherlands, pro-active engagement both by the universities and regional government who are eager to move forward in general. I think we'll both benefit by working together. Because the journey has only just started. Lionel Kimerling, MIT Boston & AIM Photonics Academy
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail
The key to any roadmapping exercise is preparation. Apart from many technical documents shared by big name corporations, PhotonDelta commissioned Dr Michael Lebby of Lightwave Logic, Colorado, USA to conduct an independent, comprehensive global market study for the forum. Having a good view of where the markets are, what the revenues might be and the volumes of the units needed is essential input for the roadmap discussions to be meaningful.
“We discovered that there were huge volumes of integrated photonics needed for the photonic component business" says Lebby. "In particular, we noticed that optical transceivers are going to use a lot of more integrated photonics than many have predicted. There currently five major areas of photonics; Today, the main incumbent technology is Indium Phosphide (InP), with new entrants such as Silicon Photonics (SiP), Dielectric Photonics (DP), and more recently Polymer Photonics (PP). The technologies that are going to succeed are the ones that are the most scalable. But we can see some gaps emerging between what the datacenter industry is demanding by 2020 and the price-points that researchers say they can deliver."
Fast Facts: What is Integrated Photonics?
Integrated photonics is an emerging branch of photonics in which complex photonic circuits process and transmit light signals. It’s like the way electronic integrated circuits process and transmit electronic signals but with some important differences.
- Electrons are sluggish. They interact with one another and the copper wires through which they travel. This limits how much information can be transmitted. In contrast, photons move at the speed of light with no interference, allowing many discrete pieces of information to be transmitted at once.
- Electronic currents heat up; photons can transmit great amounts of information, releasing only a fraction of the energy they carry.
Integrating more photonic devices in micron-scale proximity on a computer chip enables more of its components – transistors, memory, modulators, detectors – to work seamlessly together. These advantages enable information to move across a chip faster and more efficiently, consuming considerable less power. To mitigate fabrication costs, researchers are developing fabrication methods to incorporate photonic components into chips using the same tools used in existing fabrication facilities for electronic circuits.
The end of Moore’s Law is upon us
Bill Bottoms is a US Physicist and CEO of Third Millennium Test Solutions Inc. based in Santa Clara, USA. He’s been involved in building many of the high-tech roadmaps:
“The impact the electronics industry has made on society is astounding. Nothing's ever happened that rapidly in the history of mankind. But the reason that we’ve sustained that rate of progress for over 50 years is that we built roadmap to the technologies that we needed.”
In the past we understood the areas that might block us technically from further progress and because we ran the exercise regularly we were able to stimulate what’s called “precompetitive collaboration”. Instead of having 20 companies in 20 countries figure everything out for themselves, with the risk of expensive duplication of effort, we collectively solved the challenges together, assembling the best-talented teams for each one. And it worked. Each time we foresaw something that would be a roadblock to stop progress that was overcome before we before we got blocked.”
“For the first 50 years of the electronics industry we knew what was going to happen. Gordon Moore had stated his observation in 1965 and since we knew what was going to be happening the low hanging fruit for progress was simple: scale CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor). So, all we had to do is solve the problems of scaling CMOS.”
End of Moore is nigh for electronics
“We're now reaching the economic end of Moore's Law scale. We can still scale further but the cost per function is no longer going down. The benefit has become small and so we must look elsewhere for that benefit. The primary mechanism that is available to us today is to take all the electronic functions and push them as close together as we possibly can. That allows us to change the way we use these chips, the way we design them, so that the power required drops dramatically and the cost of buying them drops dramatically. The latency of the communication drops dramatically and we can interconnect these things with photonics which doesn't care how far away they are. The communication is at the speed of light and the energy requirement to move it is almost nothing compared to electrical energy.”
“So, this new roadmapping approach that we’ve started this week in the Netherlands is looking at integrating integrated photonics, whether they be on compound semiconductors like Indium Phosphide or Silicon or a combination of the two in single homogeneous integrated systems. These can provide the advantages of low cost, low power, high speed, lower latency and help us to continue to make progress as the same rate or even faster for the next 20 years.”
Fast Facts: Gordon Moore’s prediction
For the last fifty years, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. This observation in 1965 is named after Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, whose 1965 prediction proved accurate for several decades. Although Moore's “law” is an observation and not a physical or natural law. It has been used in the semiconductor industry to guide long-term planning and to set targets for research and development.
Advancements in digital electronics are strongly linked to Moore's law: quality-adjusted microprocessor prices, memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras. Digital electronics has contributed to world economic growth in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Moore's law describes a driving force of technological and social change, productivity, and economic growth.
Although the rate held steady from 1975 until around 2012, the rate was faster during the first decade. It seems you can’t extrapolate from the historical growth rate into the indefinite future. In the 2010 update to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, the authors predicted that growth would slow around 2013, and in 2015 Gordon Moore himself foresaw that the rate of progress would reach saturation: "I see Moore's law dying in the next decade or so”. Source Wikipedia.
We must solve the scaling challenge
Bill Bottoms continues the conversation:
“Today’s scaling challenge for photonics is very different than in those early days of the electronics industry. To succeed now you need to operate at the highest level of cost effectiveness. You also need the highest precision which gives us the best devices on the electronics side. To do that you need to build a factory costing about €10 billion.”
“One of the objectives of this photonics road mapping process is to stimulate the growth of hundreds of small and medium photonics enterprises to participate in this industry. How do they do that, because they don't have €10 billion? And even if they can get their chip designs outsourced to those €10 billion foundries in another country, they still need assembly, packaging and testing services – remember that packaging the photonics chip is 80% of the cost.”
“Both AIM Photonics and PhotonDelta have a common objective. We need to insert these photonics technologies and innovation into a very expensive global supply chain. You might spend 10 million dollars on a prototype for something but when you get it into volume you may well sell it for 50 cents”.
“We are collaborating in this forum because we have two organizations, one really speaking for the photonics industry in the European Union, the other one is speaking for the United States. We want to ensure that instead of duplicating effort, we do things that build on each other’s strengths. A united effort ensures governments and private enterprise can make smart investments at the right time and accelerate progress. Big money is at stake.”
“It also means we can go to large scale foundries and the packing/testing industries with one voice, representing the sum of all the photonics SME's. That’s the way to stimulate the interest from all the industries across the supply chain to invest, even though the production volumes are low right now. That will rapidly accelerate progress.”
The real work has begun
On the second day, delegates split into technical working groups, each representing an important part of the supply chain of photonic integrated circuits. Jozé Pozo, Director of Technology and Innovation for the European Photonic Industry Consortium explains:
“Each of these six groups at the WTMF is collecting and starting to prioritize up to 30 technology challenges which need to be solved in the next 12 years.”
“For instance, there is a group discussing packaging, where you take the photonic device and connect it with the necessary equipment to ensure all the electronics, fibres, etc. can be put into a plug and play module”.
“We also have a testing group, looking at what should be tested to make sure that the photonic integrated circuit that has been fabricated complies with the agreed buyer specifications. They’re examining what needs to be tested in the wafer, at the die level or at package device level.”
“Then there was the platform group, with the people who are defining the common road map between different technologies for a similar application. For instance, there's a group working in Indium Phosphide from Smart Photonics and the Heinrich Hertz Institute. Then you have those working in Silicon Photonics like IMEC, Leti from Belgium and AIM Photonics from the United States. They’re working together to define where they want to be in 2030, in just 12 years’ time."
"There was also a group focusing on systems at the application level. What are the traditional applications in datacom, biophotonics, defence, automotive, aerospace, etc. where it makes sense to replace legacy electronics with a light-based system."
In the course of the next couple of months hundreds of pages generated by the discussion groups will be compiled into a first draft of the photonics roadmap. That will be refined through discussions on line and at the several international photonics related exhibitions.
There are plans to hold the second WTMF in the third quarter of 2018. A date will be announced shortly. If you’d like to follow those developments, sign-up here for the free WTMF Newsletter.