Photonics is on track to offer to the 21st century what electronics offered to the 20th century.
The global optoelectronics market was worth $364 billion in 2005 and is expected to be $1 trillion by 2015 with displays accounting for 70% of the components market. The Photonics 21 pan-European industry group estimate that the European photonics industry generated revenues of 43.5 billion Euros in 2005 and employed 250,000 people. UK photonics generated revenues of 5.2 billion Euros in 2005 with particular strengths in defence, imaging, displays, components, communications, lighting and solar energy. As well as involving large companies such as BAE Systems, Ericsson and QinetiQ, there are over 700 UK SMEs in the photonics area (excluding display companies), according to the Photonics KTN.
For example, display technologies are an essential part of products ranging from aircraft, cars, computers and communications devices to television and other entertainment devices. Optical sensing has become a diverse industry with applications from structural monitoring to personal healthcare devices. Laser ablation, welding and cutting is becoming an established technology in manufacturing. Almost all communications beyond the local exchange, including the worldwide network that underpins the internet, are through optical fibre transmission systems. Photonics is increasingly becoming embedded in information processing systems ranging from board to board connections to server systems through Ethernet technologies operating at rapidly increasing bit rates. However, with this evolution, photonic applications are increasingly relying on more advanced electronic and information processing systems to allow full functionality and performance, and this is driving convergence of the fields. Future progress will depend on a move from the creation of photonic devices in isolation and their assembly into systems to an approach where design integrates the photonic functions with electronics, software and applications. As a result, there is a need for a new type of researcher equipped with a clear understanding of photonic and electronic systems, applications drivers for the technologies and the business, road-mapping and cost analysis tools used to determine the adoption of new technological solutions.