"The next applications are consumer sensing where the optical platform can be used to create complex sensing instruments in a single chip."
One of the opportunities is optical coherence tomography (OCT), said Rickman. This can be used to capture micrometer resolution for 2- and 3D medical and industrial imaging. At the larger scale the opportunity is lidar for autonomous vehicles.
While most automotive lidar products are amplitude-modulated systems based on pulsed laser diodes, frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) lidar is an emerging technology trend. FMCW also has a reduced risk of interference from other light sources, such as the lidars of passing vehicles.
Rickman expressed the view that frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW) would win out over the time-of-flight approach. "It uses less power and you get velocity measurement as well." And Rickman made the point that is not just automobiles that will have some version of this technology. "These are big markets. All robotic equipment will have this. But it is not an immediate market."
Again, rather as it was at Bookham, the communications market is where there is traction initially. "In the data center market we will be shipping volume by end of this year. For 3D imaging there is a lot of interest but the market still has a long way to go. It's not ready for production. We have built systems for customers today. FMCW using longer wavelength will be the universal method."
But what comes next for optical circuits?
"We see optical computing and neural networks as definite markets," said Rickman. "Using silicon photonics; an optical neural network processor can be done. We have optical labs in Pasadena and we are reaching out to places like Tyndall Institute, VTT, Southampton University. We have sown the seeds for both ONN and optical quantum computing."
With Rockley receiving investment from Hengtong and in a joint-venture for its first major product we asked if the international trade tensions that exist today were a cause of concern for Rickman.
"You have to be very aware. But on the other hand, China is just another part of the world with its own characteristics. You would be missing out if you ignored it. Huawei ended up being the biggest customer for both Bookham and Kotura," said Rickman. "Since the 1990s we have embedded ourselves in China with a close relationship with the Chinese Academy of Science Institute in Shanghai. With 20 years of experience in China we feel we've got the right approach."
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