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US launches $220M photonics foundry funding competition

06 Nov 2014

Department of Defense, via Air Force Research Laboratory, issues funding opportunity announcement.

The next step towards a $220 million institute for manufacturing innovation in the area of integrated photonics has been taken, after the US Department of Defense (DoD) launched an official call for proposals to host it.

The Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), listed under number FOA-RQKM-2015-0009 on the grants.gov web site, calls for proposals from non-profit organizations wanting to establish the state-of-the-art photonics "hub" and foundry.

A two-step solicitation process requires concept papers to be delivered to the DoD by December 19. In January, those judged to have the best ideas will subsequently be invited to deliver their full proposals, which will be due March 31, 2015.

Before that, a proposers’ day will be hosted at the Artisphere Spectrum Theater in Arlington, Virginia, on November 19, “to familiarize potential proposers with the concept and vision for the Integrated Photonics Institute (IP-IMI) and the associated technology needs”.

In its FOA, the DoD says: “The IP-IMI will change how integrated photonics are designed and manufactured, and serve to bridge the gap between basic research and product development.”

It will provide $110 million to support the institute over five years, split roughly in equal measure from fiscal year 2015 through 2019. “The recipient must provide a minimum of $110 million of industry or other non-federal government funding to meet the required minimum 1:1 cost share,” adds the document, meaning that the institute’s minimum total funding will be $220 million.

Standard platform development
The vision for the institute is to advance the state-of-the-art in the design, manufacture, testing, assembly, and packaging of complex photonic integrated circuits (PICs).

It will include integrated design tools for PIC simulation and design, access to a domestic photonic device fabrication foundry, automated packaging, PIC assembly and test, and workforce development.

“Activities under the IP-IMI will enable universities and small-to-medium enterprises to participate in the integrated photonics revolution,” states the FOA. “This IMI will bring government, industry and academia together with the goal of organizing the current fragmented domestic capabilities in integrated photonic technology and better position the US relative to global competition.”

One key problem that the institute will need to address is the lack of any standard technology platform. If developed successfully, it should allow PIC production to be scaled to the kind of volumes needed deploy the technology across multiple markets. “A standardized platform will require addressing a full suite of optical chip, electronics, packaging, interconnect, design and test solutions,” says the DoD.

Although the principal aim will be to develop and scale PICs towards volume production, the institute will also be expected to provide manufacturing support to earlier-stage domestic projects at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 1-3.

The FOA release was welcomed by SPIE and OSA, the two institutes that have spearheaded delegations to Washington, DC, in support of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), with SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs saying:

“Given the impressive capabilities of the industry and its research community, we know that the competition for the [institute] will not only be keen but will provide illustrations of the vital roles photonics plays in manufacturing, healthcare, community safety, national security, and communications.”

Candidate locations
Prime candidates for the eventual location of the photonics institute include Tucson in Arizona’s “optics valley”, the central Florida region, the Rochester area in New York state, and southern California.

Last month, the University of Central Florida (UCF), home to the renowned “CREOL” optics center, said that it was “uniquely positioned” to host the site, with its VP of research and commercialization, MJ Soileau, saying: “We are in full-court-press-mode to develop a proposal.”

Alex Fong, president of the Florida Photonics Cluster, reckons that the local photonics industry already employs around 30,000 people, and – according to a 2009 report - generated more than $7 billion in sales revenues.

Meanwhile James McNally, the chair of SPIE’s engineering science, technology, and policy committee, said that the involvement and collaboration from both academia and industry throughout the process would be key.

“[It] will provide a very powerful framework from which to innovate manufacturing processes, develop new products, build new applications, create new, high-value jobs, improve the quality of life across the globe, and position US companies to be more competitive in the global photonics marketplace.”

Following the November 19 proposers’ day, the NPI will be hosting an informational webinar for those interested in responding to the FOA. It is scheduled to take place at 11am Pacific Standard Time on November 24. A registration form will be posted at www.lightourfuture.org.

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