Social and economic importance
These days people have such a diversity of chips in all kinds of products that they use every day: from a cell phone to a washing machine, and even in bank and access passes. But even in industrial automation, traffic and transport, medical systems, everywhere microchips play a key role. In the early years of micro-electronics, in the mid sixties of the last century, not too many people realized that chips would have such an enormous influence on our lives. The expectation is that in terms of integrated photonics we are now at about the same point in time as micro-electronics was in the sixties.
Internet, the power glutton
One of the main reasons to accelerate the development of photonic chips is the energy consumed by internet. We are all using more and more data, in part through the enormous growth of online video and digital TV.
In 2015 three percent of all the electrical power generated worldwide was needed for data traffic and communication. These information flows are growing by around eighty percent each year. If mitigating measures are not taken, then within five years the required amount of electrical power will exceed the available total production capacity.
Photonic chips offer the solution. Data are already being photonically transported worldwide via fiber-optic cables. However, the datacenters are still converting the fiber-optic data from light signals into electrical signals because the chips to process the data are still electronic. Those electronic chips require much more power and are much slower than photonic chips, which are just starting to become commercially available.
The processing speed of electronic chips is not keeping pace with the growth of data traffic worldwide. The possibilities of photonic chips are much greater. Photonic chips make the growth of internet possible and make low energy consumption a viable and affordable proposition.
Apart from data-communication applications, there are plenty of other areas of society where photonic chips will have a positive impact. For instance, photonic sensors are able to analyze materials fast and non-invasively, as in medical tests or blood analyses.
The especially low energy consumption of photonic chips also makes them very sustainable. Not only in datacenters but also in the constantly growing ICT industry worldwide photonic chips will keep power consumption down. So long as electricity is generated from fossil fuels, the introduction of photonics will also help restrict the emission of CO2.
The market for photonic chips, and the products that are based on them, is expected to be worth hundreds of billions of euros ultimately. This means an employment boost. In photonics researchers, PIC designers, software designers, system builders, suppliers of the product resources and equipment needed, etc.
Within Brainport Eindhoven Region alone estimates suggest at least seven thousand jobs over the next decade and in Europe many thousands of jobs. Add to this all the different jobs in related industrial sectors, such as manufacturers of products that are based on photonic chips.