16/07/2021 - Photonic Sensors: Along the optical sensors procurement chain

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Christophe Kopp (CEA), Head of the Section of New Photonic Applications at CEA-Leti & Director of the Nanoelec/Photonic Sensors Program © P.Jayet/CEA

After several years essentially focussed on technology development, the Nanoelec / Photonic Sensors program steers to applications since 2020. Update with Christophe Kopp, Program Director.4 questions for Christophe Kopp, Head of the Nanoelec/Photonic Sensors program

What is the potential for optical sensor applications?

In functional terms, optical sensors are well-known for their accuracy, sensitivity, selectivity, versatility and acquisition speed. Thanks to micro-technology integration, their miniaturization is opening up new markets in a wide variety of fields such as environmental monitoring, urban planning, health, industry or energy, but also consumer applications. The digital transformation of our society is leading to the deployment of billions of sensors and sensor networks. They are used across a broad spectrum of applications such as gesture recognition, presence detection, smart heating, etc. The rising adoption of automation in various sectors is speeding up the growth of the market for these sensors.

The global market for optical sensor applications already stands at more than 20 billion dollars, with a target annual growth rate in excess of 10% over the coming decade (1).

What innovations will sensors carry in the coming years?

These new sensors must be accurate, be as small as possible and consume very little energy. Moreover, their architecture must be compatible with the means of collective manufacturing. These sensors will be based on the use of photonic chips built on production lines derived from the microelectronics sector. This technology and its industrial ecosystem were initially developed for the high speed optical datalinks market. Today, optical sensors require that the spectral bands that can be addressed be expanded from the visible to the infrared, with functionalization of the detection surfaces.

What technological challenges do you face?

The main technological challenges for these sensors are the accuracy and stability of measurements, miniaturization, data processing and transfer, and compatibility with the constraints of mass production. The unique properties and the performance of integrated photonics are essential in meeting these requirements. We aim at implementing thousands of functions on the same photonic chip. New components and new technological building blocks are required together with the digital tools needed to design these complex photonic circuits, along with automated characterisation techniques.

What are the goals of the program you are running?

Our aim is to speed up innovation and give a technological edge to our industrial partners along the optical sensors procurement chain. In the light of the expected growth mentioned earlier, we ambition to consolidate the technological lead by French players in the field so that they can be on a par with the best in the world. To achieve this, we are pursuing a three-fold goal with them: increasing the maturity of the 200- and 300-mm photonic platforms, developing innovative processes and devices (integration of laser sources in particular) and, finally, implementing application demonstrations.

What motivates you the most (personally) in the program you are running?

IRT Nanoelec offers a unique framework for collaboration between industry and micro-technology research institutes. I take advantage of the connections established between the applications challenges of our partners and the concepts from our researchers. My greatest satisfaction is to see our technologies transferred from the research labs to the production teams.

(1) Global Market Insights.

> Discover Nanoelec/Photonic Sensors program at an glance, here.