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CLEO 06: Taking photonics to market comes under the spotlight

24 May 2006

Experts in patient diagnostics, homeland security and medical imaging share their views on the commercialization of photonics as part of an exclusive CLEO/QELS panel discussion.

Terahertz imaging, optical coherence tomography (OCT) and mid-infrared diagnostics were all up for debate at CLEO/QELS thanks to a panel of industry experts chaired by Tom Hausken of analyst firm, Strategies Unlimited.

Sharing their views were David Zimdars, manager of terahertz research and development at Picometrix; James Fujimoto, co-founder of Advanced Ophthalmic Devices and LightLabs Imaging; and Timothy Day, CEO of Daylight Solutions, a developer of compact, tunable mid-infrared sources. All have expertise in commercializing photonics.

"Fundamentally the clinical sector is a very difficult one to develop in," Fujimoto told the audience. "It is a complex market with a very long timescale." OCT has managed to breakthrough because it is a unique non-invasive tool.

"The price point for ophthalmologists is around $50,000 - 70,000, which is very high," he commented. "Nonetheless, the market tolerates this because there are no other machines generating this kind of information."

Terahertz imaging is in a similar position, offering practical advantages over its competition. As Zimdars points out, the technique has come a long way in twelve years from laboratory equipment offering proof-of-concept, postage stamp sized scans through to today's fast, large-scale imagers. "The fundamentals have been around for a long time," he explained. "However, what you need is the investment to bridge those development gaps that may not be apparent from the start."

Fortunately for Daylight Solutions, much of the groundwork for its compact, mid-infrared diagnostic source has already been done. "Thanks to the huge investment in telecoms over the past ten years, low-cost semiconductor packaging technology and the ability to tune the color of a laser are now both sitting there on the shelf," said Day. "There is an enormous amount of experience out there that can be applied to photonics problems - today's portable music players just snap together and the tolerances holding those parts in place are the same as laser tolerances."

By James Tyrrell, Long Beach, CA.

James Tyrrell is News Editor on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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