Silicon photonics sticks its head above the parapet

An article written by Eric Mounier and Alexis Debray, Ph.D., Senior Analyst – Emerging Technologies, both at Yole Développement (Yole), for EETIMES Europe.

Yole Développement initially reported on silicon photonics applications in 2011. It is interesting to compare our vision at that time with what is happening today.

In 2011, silicon photonics was still an emerging technology, with only two industrial players: Luxtera and Kotura. At the market level, it was obvious that datacom would be the primary market for silicon photonics, though the medical sector had already been identified as an interesting opportunity.

At the start of the 2010s, silicon photonics suffered from a lack of industrial infrastructure for design and foundry activities. When, Luxtera and STMicroelectronics announced a partnership early in the decade, it was seen as a first step toward setting up a foundry service dedicated to silicon photonics. In terms of the market, it was valued at US$65 million (mainly for datacom).

In 2021, the industrial and market landscape for silicon photonics looks far different. While datacom and then telecom have long been considered the most important silicon photonics markets, Rockley Photonics’ annoucement of silicon photonics technology’s use for consumer applications has changed this vision.

Rockley recently expanded the range of possible applications for its non-invasive biomarker sensing into new medical technology segments. The company has signed strategic partnerships with two of the world’s 10 largest medical equipment and device manufacturers (one of them is Medtronic); together, the two companies represent more than US$40 billion of revenue in the medical equipment market. But the revenues generated by the medical market will probably not be until 2024. Potential applications include treatments for diseases including diabetes.

Today, dynamized by cloud applications for home office and personal use, video on demand, and 5G expansion, the primary silicon photonics application is still optical communication, with the technology integrated into 25% to 30% of optical transceivers. Some applications, such as immunoassays (Genalyte), will continue to grow, while fiber-optic gyroscopes (KVH), LiDAR, and photonic computing applications will still develop. Consumer health applications are gaining in importance with the release of smart watches that include an expanding complement of sensors. Silicon photonics is also expected to be integrated into other wearables, such as earphones. Like LiDAR, silicon photonics will enable compact and affordable optical modules. 

The consumer health application today is concentrated in the collaboration that Rockley Photonics started with Apple in 2017. Apple remains an important client of Rockley, with US$70 million of non-recurring engineering commitment to date. The fitness market is part of Apple’s strategy; its Apple Fitness + service is integrated into the Apple Watch and offers various exercise apps, such as Pilates, yoga, and muscle strengthening. The Apple Watch can measure heart rate and performance in real-time.

Read the full article on the pages 55-56

Source: https://www.eetimes.eu/

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