Thursday, April 4, 2013

LASER World of Photonics: The place to be in May

What is held biennially, has been around 40 years, and ranks as one of the biggest and most important shows in the global photonics industry? The answer of course is LASER World of Photonics, the trade fair organized by Messe Munich International and held at the Munich fairgrounds from May 13-16. The World of Photonics Congress, which is the largest European technical and scientific conference on photonics, is co-located and runs from May 12-16.

This year the exhibition should attract 28,000 visitors and 1,100 exhibitors, with over 50% of those international. The focus will be on lasers and laser systems for manufacturing, lighting and energy, imaging, optical measurement, and biophotonics and medical technology.

The technical and scientific Congress is expected to attract about 5,000 participants, and comprises five meetings:
- CLEO/Europe-EQEC, organized by the European Physical Society and sponsored by its Quantum Electronics and Optics Division, OSA, and IEEE Photonics Society
 - Optofluidics, Manufacturing of Optical Components, and Advanced Optomechanical Engineering, organized by the European Optical Society
- LiM - Lasers in Manufacturing (LiM), organized by the Scientific Laser Society (WLT);
- European Conference on Biomedical Optics (ECBO), organized by the OSA and SPIE; In conjunction with ECBO, the annual conference of the Head and Neck Optical Diagnostics Society (HNODS) will also be held.
- Optical Metrology, organized by SPIE Europe

In addition to the Congress, forums on the exhibition floor will be the scene of numerous Application Panels, which are divided into three general topic areas: Biophotonics and Medical Engineering, Lasers and Laser Systems for Production Engineering, and Optical Technologies. The full list of Application Panels is available HERE.

We'll have more on the exhibition and Congress online and in the May issue of Laser Focus World.  For a more complete preview of LASER and the Congress, click HERE.

See you at the fair.

Monday, April 1, 2013

PSSST ... wanna buy a green laser pointer?

Despite all the bad press about green laser pointers, including the numerous lawsuits against people shining them into airplane cockpits ( and the recent news from NIST that 90% of the green laser pointers out there don't meet US federal regulations, I must admit I've always wanted to have one. And not just because my red laser pointer is a bit weak when it comes to illuminating presentation slides, but because green is a great color, very bright, state-of-the-art, and oh so great at making my dogs dance around trying to catch the beam!

On my recent visit to Shanghai, China for the 2013 Laser World of Photonics ( conference (see my conference review at, I learned from a Laser Institute of America (LIA) colleague that there might be a guy walking around the exhibits flashing a green laser pointer for sale. "Don't pay more than 150 RMB, though" he cautioned, as the price typically starts out much higher and that was the typical price as of the 2012 conference. With 150 RMB (Chinese Yuan Renminbi) equating to around only $24 US dollars, I was ready to buy. Sadly, I didn't see the guy during the whole three-day conference.

So imagine my delight when, on the last afternoon of my visit where I was fortunate enough to be invited shopping at the Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai, that I came across a man flashing a multi-pointed, dazzling projection that could only be a green laser pointer! I wasn't quite sure what my colleague meant when he said that the pointers were typically equipped with an optic at the front that produced a sort of kaleidoscope image -- but now I knew what he meant (see photo below).

The "salesman" demonstrated the power of the pointer by shining it on a building almost 200 feet away. I was hooked. And when he said 150 RMB as the first price, I nearly said OK. But then the haggler in me (living so close to Mexico) decided to bargain. The end result, 120 RMB or two for 100 RMB each (way less expensive than the fake Rolex I bought in a dark hallway later that day--but that's another story). Fortunately, one of my shopping companions jumped in to buy one at 100 RMB, so I got my pointer!

Now if I were better prepared for my trip to China, I would have checked in advance what green laser pointers cost, but I figured I couldn't go wrong at less than $20. But when I returned home, I decided to check prices. On, I was surprised to find out that most of the pointers were 5 mW at less than $10, with 50 mW pointers at about $40, and even more powerful "stargazing" pointers for up to $80 (although power levels weren't pointed out). I even found a Laserglow Technologies 20-225 mW pointer starting at $229 on a simple web search.
So just how powerful was my pointer, was it a good buy, and was it safe (as if I cared)? I checked out the safety label on the pointer ( and the words "DANG ER" should have been my first clue regarding safety. Not "DANGER", but "DANG ER" with a space between DANG and ER--an obvious printing error on the poorly applied label.

The label revealed that my Class III 532 nm +/- 10 nm laser pointer had a power rating of < 200 mW. It even says it complies with 21 CFR. Perhaps NIST could check it for me and find out just how powerful it really is?

Friday, March 8, 2013

NLIA and clusters advance China's domestic laser industry

I have long suspected that the annual Laser Market Review & Forecast
(, as published in the January 2013 issue of Laser Focus World, underestimates the total laser market simply due to the fact that it is difficult to get actual production statistics from domestic laser companies in China. The presentation from Bo Gu--respected photonics industry expert formerly with IPG and GSI and now an independent consultant--at our 2013 Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar
( held during SPIE Photonics West confirmed my opinion. According to Gu, there are 200 laser companies in China, 150 job shops, 60,000 professionals in the laser field, and 25 companies (and perhaps more) alone making fiber lasers. You can watch a short video of Bo Gu here:

Gu explained that China has historically manufactured its own low-power lasers for marking/micromachining applications, but has recently made inroads into high-power lasers; for example, Raycus just completed a 4 kW fiber laser. Gu discussed how the Chinese government is eager to reduce or eliminate its dependence on foreign-manufactured lasers and mentioned that just in 2012, the National Laser Industry Alliance (NLIA) and the China Laser and Optoelectronic Cluster had been formed with that precise goal. 

In its late December 2012 news posting, HG Laser wrote about details of the NLIA at The news story wrote that on December 22, 2012, the NLIA was composed of 42 enterprises and institutions , including Wuhan HuaGong Tech  Co., Wuhan Raycus Fiber Laser Technologies Co., Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Co., Sany Heavy Industry Co.,and HuaZhong University of Science & Technology, and that the Secretary of the HGTech Party Committee was recommended as the chairman of the Alliance. The image below shows the NLIA ceremony taking place:

The report continued, "NLIA has accomplished numbers of research projects and organized a lot of science plans. The 'Industrial Laser Source & Equipment Key Technology Research', supported by 'The 11th Five-year Plan', has been accepted by Chinese Technology Department. It's considered by the Chinese Technology Department as the key to technology advancement of laser source & equipment in China and as the best way to get rid of being dependent on overseas laser equipments, technology and intellectual property."

It also specifically discusses the 4 kW Raycus laser: "Otherwise, 4KW Fiber Laser Source, co-developed by HGLaser, Raycus and HUST, was accepted by Science & Technology Department of Hubei Province and made HGLaser and Raycus become the 3rd enterprise acknowledging the advanced technology after IPG and Rofin. What's more, Laser Processing National Project Research Center, co-built by HGTech and HUST, has become the connection between 'China Optic Valley' and 'International Science Industry'." The report concludes, "During the next phrase of work, all the members will make great breakthrough in the key technology area, integrate all resources to promote laser industry and will form industrial cluster in laser industry."

Indeed, a laser cluster has also been formed. In a news story at, "The 'China (Wenzhou-based) Laser and Optoelectronic Industry Cluster' is among the first 41 objects for building and nurturing the national innovative industry cluster approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) ... ". The report continues: "Laser and optoelectronic industry is a basic industry out of the seven major strategic emerging industries of our country. Despite its later start, Wenzhou has achieved a rapid growth with considerable foundation laid in industrial size, chain and cluster, enterprise development and innovation capabilities. By far, over 80 laser and optoelectronic enterprises including 21 high-tech ones that settle in Wenzhou have achieve an output of RMB 22.88 billion and an industrial chain featured by laser application, PV generation, LED lighting and optical communication takes shape. Output of  the cluster is predicted to break through RMB 100 billion [$16 billion dollars] in the forthcoming 5 years."

Wenzhou, the report continues, will lead off its focus on four major sectors including lasers, optoelectronic energy, semiconductor lighting, and optical communication, and launch the construction of the Innovation Park for China Laser and Optoelectronic Technologies, of which the construction of the 5 km2 starting area in the Hi-tech Zone, the Economic and Technological Development and Oujiangkou New District will be first commenced to ensure development space and enhance independent innovation capacities of the cluster (see image below of proposed Oujiangkou Industry Cluster Park):

American and European laser manufacturers should be prepared to possibly see laser sales into China fall as these key NLIA and cluster initiatives are implemented and acted upon. And as I prepare to travel to "Laser World of Photonics China" in Shanghai in mid March 2013, I cannot wait to compare and contrast what I see to Photonics West and Laser Munich.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spring photonics tradeshow fever

Nothing beats talking to a colleague or hearing from a renowned speaker for learning about developments or solving a problem--and the same goes for actually handling a product and asking questions of a product manager. Several upcoming tradeshows will enable the full range of photonics technologies and products to be discussed, analyzed, and handled.

OFC/NFOEC in Anaheim, CA (March 17-21), with 550 exhibitors) focuses on topics such as cloud and datacenter networking, software-defined networking (SDN), optical and wireless convergence, and 100G/400G developments. For Laser Focus World, my personal focus will be on silicon photonics (including the rump session on Tuesday evening that asks the question, Silicon photonics: disruptive technology or research curiosity?). There's also the OSA's Executive Forum on Monday, including a distinquished panel looking at the future of the optical components industry and asking whether it is driven by technology challenges or in need of a business model tune-up?

LASER World of Photonics China in Shanghai (March 19-21) again promises to deliver very useful insights into this critical but little-understood market. I attended last year, and this year senior editor Gail Overton will present an overview of the global laser markets at the co-located Eighth International Congress on laser processes and components.

SPIE Defense, Security + Sensing in Baltimore (April 29-May 3) will be the venue to see the best in related products and technologies--and to learn what impacts the ongoing US budget struggles may have on the defense markets. The keynote speech by DARPA director Arati Prabhakar should be very worthwhile attending.

The largest and most widely anticipated show will take place in Munich (May 13-16), where LASER World of Photonics will be celebrating its 40th anniversary and expecting 1100 exhibitors and 28,000 visitors. More on that shortly.

And finally, just before the Summer solstice, CLEO takes place in San Jose (June 9-14). There, the OSA and Laser Focus World will present their annual Innovation Awards for outstanding new products and services. Please submit your nominations as soon as possible!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SPIE Startup Challenge highlights high-tech photonics

It is an absolutely daunting challenge to attend a trade show like SPIE Photonics West 2013 and expect to come back to the office with a "comprehensive" view of what is new and exciting in the photonics industry. As one of my editorial colleagues remarked, "I feel like I saw 1% of the show." Truly, the show is awesome for its industry and networking events as well as the demonstration-packed exhibit, but I always feel like I've missed a lot. As an editor for Laser Focus World, that is not a good thing!


So thank goodness for the three-year-old SPIE Startup Challenge! Wow, what an awesome way to discover ten of the top photonics startup companies in our industry--with truly "high tech" innovations--through their rapid-fire series of presentations to a distinguished panel of photonics industry investors and technology experts like Jason Eichenholz of Open Photonics, Patricia Glaza from Arsenal Venture Partners, and Adam Wax of Duke University. The presentations "took off" much like the small plane in the SPIE Startup Challenge logo above. And just what was at stake during the Wednesday, Feb 6 presentations at 3:30 pm?: $10,000 to the top entrepreneurial company with the best technology, and $5000 and $2500 to the second- and third-place winners, respectively.

A video of the winning company and technology from SPIE.TV is included below:


From 20 semi-final presentations (see them here at as all are worthy of mention) came 10 total finalists, who were each given just three minutes to present their technology to the panel. I feel compelled to list all 10 of  them here, including the top winners, just to give you an idea of how much innovation was packed into the competing technologies (HIGHLIGHTED IN ALL CAPS):




ACOUSTICALLY TUNABLE MASS-MARKET DFB LASER; Michael Engelmann of MACH8 Lasers, The Netherlands


RAPID PATHOLOGY AT THE BEDSIDE; Sanjee Abeytunge of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, NY USA

LOW-COST NONINVASIVE DEVICE FOR ORAL CANCER SCREENING; Christopher Glazowski of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, NY USA


DOUBLE HELIX OPTICS TO SEE MORE AND CLEARER; Leslie Kimerling and Rafael Piestun of Double Helix LLC, CO USA


The technologies presented were primarily in the biomedical field, echoing what our staff wrote in our Photonics West 2013 Preview about the emphasis on biomedical optics and the overwhelming influence of the BiOS Symposium. Bio is big business today, especially for low-cost devices that truly displace huge, complex laboratory scale equipment and take medicine closer to the patient in a point-of-care setting.

I spoke with Arun Chhabra, co-founder of 8tree, the company that took top winnings in the SPIE Startup Challenge for its fastCHECK 3D surface inspection system. Chhabra and his co-founder Erik Klaas learned of the competition through an SPIE email while the pair were visiting customers in Bangalore, India just two days before the deadline and decided to enter. In a nutshell, 8tree is working to disrupt the 3D scanning landscape as we know it. Their unique approach rests on 3 core pillars: (1) delivering incredibly easy-to-use (no learning curve) scanners that address specific and chronic market problems, (2) integrating Augmented Reality techniques with 3D scanning to deliver instant analysis, thereby making results immediately actionable and easy to understand, and (3) offering a pragmatic approach to making 3D scanning more affordable so it can be adopted in new, higher-volume markets. Their first product focuses on addressing the chronic problem of 3D surface inspection systems for aircraft rivet inspection. The idea is to displace bulky, complex, industrial inspection systems with small point-and-shoot instruments that deliver a "visual" display that technicians can easily interpret. Watch a demonstration video of their products at

In fact, the one common thread for most of the SPIE Startup Challenge technologists was the desire to significantly reduce the complexity of scientific instrumentation into a user-friendly device that anyone could master in a very short period of time, without sacrificing performance. Look for future World News stories on many of the technologies described here, including 8tree's 3D inspection system, in future issues of Laser Focus World. And next year, don't forget to attend the 2014 SPIE Startup Challenge--I know I'll be there!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar at Photonics West -- specific markets

Continued from today's earlier blog on the morning's presentations for the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar . . .

OCT market
Eric Swanson of OCT News spoke on the OCT (optical coherence tomography) market.  The field began in the late 1980s; now there are on the order of 50 companies.

Patents play a big role in OCT; there are more than 1000 issued OCT patents -- it is difficult to get fundamental patents now. Worldwide government funding for OCT has reached $1B, with $300M cumulative NIH funding. Cardiovasulare OCT revenue is 1/3 that of opthalmic OCT, but growing.  There have been $300M in acquisitions, but no OCT company has gone public yet.

For a more complete summary of this OCT market talk, go to BioOptics World's wonderful blog, BioOptics WorldView.

Challenges in mergers and acquisitions
The first (rhetorical) question from presenter Robert Mandra (RSM Advisors) was," Is now a good time to sell?"  He notes that the quantity of laser and optics deals over the last fifteen years have been relatively constant per year (with a few outliers).  His second question: "What are photonics acquirers looking for?"

The photonics industry is very fragmented (as we all know).  Many optical materials architectures; very precise alignment is often required.  Manufacturing these diverse devices and systems is quite a challenge (as we all also know).  Many, many diverse end markets also complicate design and marketing.  By comparison, the semiconductor industry is straightforward and easier for potential acquirers to get comfortable with!

Robert notes that this diversity makes it hard to find a match; the devil is in the details.  His approach and advice: just proceed one step at a time, do a fundamental, honest assessment of your specific business.  Figure out what leverage you can offer your potential acquirer.  In particular, you must make a special effort to educate any potantial acquirers, especially if they are from outside the optical industry.

New model for innovation and spinoffs
Jason Eichenholz, CEO of Open Photonics (OPI), notes that we are still in the "vacuum tube" era of photonics.  There are technical innovators who have great technology but not a clue how to commercialize them; then there are the innovators who know the markets; how to bring them together?  (This is the raison d'etre of OPI, a photonics-only accelerator company.)  Crowd-sourcing, key to open innovation, is intended to allow companies (as they grow) to use external as well as internal ideas; the result could be the discovery of entirely new markets.

In addition, your internal ideas and technology could be useful to others (licensing, etc.).  The "Photonics Horizons" program has a phase I (proof of concept, $10K from OPI, "no strings attached," IP stays with inventor) and, for phase I winners, a phase II (up to $100K, IP transfer arranged as part of the phase II proposal); both phases are peer-reviewed by tech and business experts, notes Jason. Corporate engagement comes in two versions: tier I sponsorship ($275k/year) and tier II ($65k/year).

Opportunities in fiber lasers
Valentin Gapontsev, founder of IPG Photonics, has advanced the field of fiber lasers like no other.  IPG received the Forbes award in 2012 as the 9th fastest-growing company in the U.S. on total return (Apple was 8th).  IPG currently has 2300 employees worldwide.

Fiber lasers currently have a majority market share in the high-power, metal marking, and microprocessing sectors and are still gaining, says Gapontsev.  The fiber-laser market is projected to grow from $588M in 2011 to $1,365M in 2016.  High-power CW fiber lasers that emit to power levels of 100 kW, or single-mode power levels to 10 kW, are gaining worldwide acceptance for automotive, aerospace, oil and gas, nuclear, and metal manufacturing.  Mean time to failure has been pushed to greater than 10 years.  China is the biggest market for nanosecond-range pulsed fiber lasers.

Optical components for ultrafast lasers
Ruediger Paschotta (RP Photonics Consulting GmbH) notes that limited choice of solid-state ultrafast optical gain materials leads to tradeoffs, for example between pulse duraction and output power -- top viable materials include Ti:sapphire and Yb- and Nd- doped glasses, or for ultrafast fiber lasers, Yb, Er, or Tm doping.  However, none comes with universal advantages. Fibers have a tradeoff between high doping concentrations for short length, and nonlinear effects. (Nonlinearity is the bane of ultrafast fiber lasers.) 

A solution to nonlinearities is CPA (chirped pulse amplification), but this leads to complexity and more components.  Pulse energy in fibers can be boosted by lowering the pulse repetition rate, but nonlinear effects get worse (those dastardly nonlinearities again). Detailed characterization for doped active fibers is important, but often neglected.  Passive fibers (photonic crystal and other) are also often integrated into fiber laser systems, used as CPA elements etc. as well as power delivery; the important point is that these systems have complex and interlocking properties that demand high R&D expertise, so find the best people you can.  Also, a good relationship with top fiber manufacturers will stand you in good stead.

Mid-IR and quantum-cascade lasers
Petros Kotidis, CEO of Block Engineering, talks about taking the quantum-cascade laser (QCL) to the next level in practice, in the form of widely tunable devices that, in instrumentation, access very large portions of the spectroscopic "fingerprint" region for organic materials.  Markets for this type of hardware are opening up in the areas of food production and monitoring, pharmaceuticals, gas sensing, battlefield detection of improvised explosive devices (IEDs, for example in a vehicle or buried under earth), and characterization of lubricants, to name only a few.

Standoff detection (up to 3 ft away) via handheld QCL-based spectrometers will be the driver for many of these applications, which require easy portability as well as accuracy and tunability.  Micro- to nanoscale contaminants, coatings, and biological films are common targets.  Cleaning verification of pharmaceutical vessels (allowing quicker turnaround between batches) is an early example of this technology put into practice.

White-light supercontinuum fiber lasers
Wilhelm Kaenders (Toptica) describes such devices as "broad as a lamp, bright as a laser."  In this case, nonlinearities in an ultrafast fiber laser are your friend, rather than your enemy -- as they result in the white light produced by supercontinuum lasers (in fact, highly nonlinear fibers are one important approach).

Nanosecond, picosecond, and femtosecond seed-pulse devices exist.  Application spaces include biological imaging, industrial imaging, and laboratory use.  These devices are becoming more important in the biological imaging market -- linear and nonlinear fluorescence microscopy, ophthalmology, flow cytometry, etc.  In just one use, a supercontinuum laser plus tunable filter equals a versatile, bright tunable source for microscopy.

Femtosecond fiber lasers can produce spectrally coherent supercontinua. Much lower spectral and amplitude noise are the result, as well as more-efficient nonlinear frequency conversion.  Frequency combs with 300 kHz individual comb lines are possible. Broadband interference is another effect, which can be exploited to form a spatial or temporal meter.  Simplicity is another advantage for supercontinuum-laser-produced frequency combs, eliminating the conventional pre-existing room-sized setup and replacing it with a small box.

Ultrahigh-brightness direct-diode industrial lasers
Parviz Tayebati, president of TeraDiode, delved into laser cutting and laser welding/brazing as accomplished by direct-diode lasers (high-power systems that channel laser-diode light as effeciently as possible into fibers for delivery to the workspace). Power ranges from 500 W up to 4 kW for laser cutting (an application driven primarily by the automotive and aerospace industries).

Wavelength beam combination of many laser diodes produces a beam quality as good as that of a single sourceat up to kilowatt levels for cutting and welding.  For example, a 600 W device uses nine diode bar modules, diodes and optical components are assembled semi-automatically (measurement-based and software-guided).  All this light is then channeled into a fiber.

For higher powers (up to 6 kW), polarization beam combining and sometimes a dichroic combination of two disparate already-combined wavelength ranges is done.  The resulting beam-parameter product out of the fiber is around 4 mm-mrad. Such devices are capable of displacing fiber and disk lasers for some applications, as ultrahigh efficiency is possible due to the removal of the conventional two-step diode pumped gain material setup.

And that's it for now -- a brief summary of the 2013 Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar.  Of course, to get the other 99% you have to attend the seminar . . . but, for those who missed out, there's always next year.

Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar at Photonics West -- a morning full of info

Laser Focus World's 2013 Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar, being held today (Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 at Photonics West, is off to a roaring start, with much of the general market info being presented in the morning.  With the caveat that one cannot capture more than a small portion of the info in a short blog, here's a quick recap of the morning's events so far . . .

General market
Allen Nogee of Strategies Unlimited was up first, giving an overall summary of the 2012 market and predictions for 2013.  His long list of quicly developing laser applications included some not well-known yet, such as the longe range detection of an automobile driver's breath alcohol through a car's window (ah, the benefits of spectroscopy!).

Allen notes that, for the general laser market, the good is that it is growing in emerging economies, but less good is the currently slowing growth in the Chines economy.  Greater than 95% of lasers come from 4 countries -- US, Japan, Germany, and China; biggest sales by application are lasers for communications and data storage, other laser diode applications, and materials processing.  Optical storage is on the way out, however, due to growth of online data storage and streaming.

China is now mandating optical fiber to all new homes, which is a boon for the datacom laser market.  In addition,  the effects of Hurricane Sandy are accelerating the replacement of copper with fiber for datacom in New York City.

Medical lasers had a good year in 2012, but a hitch in 2013 is a 2.3% tax imposed on medical equipment due to the Obama health-care initiative.  As for R&D lasers, the market will be up by a small amount in 2013.  Lasers for sensing (spectroscopy, etc.) will do well in 2013. For complete info in the 2013 laser market, Allen and Strategies Unlimited have put together the Worldwide Market for Lasers: Market Review and Forecast 2013 .

Industrial laser market
David Belforte of Industrial Laser Solutions was up next.  Fiber lasers have a projected 7% growth for 2013 -- fullfilling a need for compact and powerful lasers that are easy to deploy. Diode and excimer lasers for industry wull outperform the market in 2013.  Marking and engraving are the largest markets by unit sales -- here, fiber dominates.

The Asian fiber market has a half of the world's industrial laser installations. Both Asia and North America are exceeding expectations; Europe will be stagnant in 2013.

Interestingly, David believes that the predicted dip in the medical area (lasers are important for the manufacture of medical devices) due to the Obama changes to health care will work themselves out -- because they have to be.  To keep from injuring the industry, the taxes will have to be "tweaked."

Chinese market
Bo Gu, a San Francisco consultant, next presented on the laser market in China.  He notes that ultrafast laser processing for solar and semiconductor industries and direct-diode laser systems are growing fast. Low-power diode lasers have matured.  Chines laser equipment market for 2013 will be 54% low power welding lasers, with the rest high-power, but this will be reversed in a couple of years, says Gu.

A few of the trends for the next few years in China: green/UV and ultrafast lasers, especially picosecond lasers, will grow.  Chinese fiber-laser manufacturers will grow rapidly, and will become vertically integrated.  Kilowatt-level fiber lasers will enter the market, with 2 to 4 kW being the focus.  Government initiatives will be important for driving laser growth.

Before too long, China will become the largest economy in the world; to compete there, you will need to have the right business models and philosphies, says Gu.

OCT market
Eric Swanson of OCT News speaks next on the OCT (optical coherence tomography) market.  The field began in the late 1980s; now there are on the order of 50 companies.  More to come . . .

Monday, January 28, 2013

The dangers of photonics

As I get ready to write the March "Photonics Applied: Defense & Security" feature article for Laser Focus World on whether terahertz scanners used at airports and in cargo facilities are really safe, I'm reminded that photonics has a darker, dangerous side. After all, laser weapons do exist, laser dazzlers can disable a human from a distance, fluorescent nanoparticle toxicity is still under investigation, pointing green lasers in aircraft cockpits is a punishable offense, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) roam the skies posing as birds and insects.

The dangers--whether real or media hype--are definitely in the public spotlight. Check out this alarmist video on YouTube about how the government plans to install "scanners" at airports and sporting events that can learn everything about you, from what you had for breakfast to identifying traces of explosives and narcotics (the video link is in case the video doesn't play in the space below due to some unforeseen Laser Focus World Blogger program glitch).

Real or hype? Unfortunately or not (depending on your conspiracy viewpoint), the claims are becoming quite real. Standoff molecular detection is real, and companies like Genia Photonics (Laval, QC, Canada) are developing picosecond programmable lasers and master oscillator power amplifier (MOPA) technologies used in coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) spectroscopy that are designed precisely for learning everything about the molecular makeup of a distant object.

If people think Facebook was designed for "data mining" its customers, CARS spectroscopy could certainly gather more data about your food likes and dislikes for a localized population than could any software program. And CARS doesn't lie; how many people on Facebook put in fake information specifically because they don't want to be "targeted". But is standoff detection really wrong? Personally, I think it could be beneficial because data mining could help decide, for example, which fast food restaurants or which Starbucks items should be prominent at the airport. But if I were to get a text telling me where I could grab my favorite Whopper sandwich when I land next at JFK, that might be a problem for me.

Privacy seems to be a thing of the past, and technology--much of it related to photonics and optics advances--has made population as well as individual monitoring possible. And are all of these wireless signals and lightwaves traversing our personal space safe and secure? Maybe there really is a link to cell phone use and cancer? Are the long-term effects of standoff detection well understood? I'm hoping to shed some light on the terahertz scanner safety issues in my next article, and will continue reporting on the possible dangers associated with the industry's seemingly innocuous photonics advances.

I used to think that out in the desert in the middle of nowhere, I was immune from "Big Brother is Watching" worries (not that I have anything to hide). But that dragonfly and tarantula hawk I saw the other day were just a little too mechanical looking and hung around just a little too long....

Friday, January 25, 2013

A new tool for prototyping flexible photonics

Thanks to efforts by researchers at North Carolina State University, creating and developing prototype flexible photonics devices will become much easier.1 The NC State crew has created an extremely flexible and stretchable electrical wire that can be cut with a pair of scissors and then electrically and mechanically reattached simply by holding the ends together. Even more exciting, the wire ends can be cut at angles and pressed together in different combinations to form 2D and 3D networks for stretchable sensing arrays (medical and otherwise), wearable displays, and so on (limited only by your imagination, as they say).

(Image courtesy of NC State)

The wires consist of liquid metal within microchannels made of a self-healing polymer (see video for demo). The gallium-based conductive alloy at the wire's center is liquid at room temperature and, unlike mercury, is nontoxic. The wires should provide a simple way of 1) wiring up prototypes, 2) realizing you want these wires to go here, not there, and 3) spending a few seconds rewiring. And, considering that the NC State group has created wires of this type that can stretch eight times their original length, the resulting prototype can be very stretchable indeed.2

When cut, the gallium alloy forms an oxide surface at the wire's end that contains the gallium until wires are reattached. Another advantage of these wires; they can be made more conductive (by increasing the microchannel's inner diameter) without reducing their stretchiness, unlike other stretchable wires that have a solid conductor.

“Because we’re using liquid metal, these wires have excellent conductive properties,” says Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State. “And because the wires are also elastic and self-healing, they have a lot of potential for use in technologies that could be exposed to high-stress environments.”


1. Etienne Palleau et al., Advanced Materials, published online Jan. 18, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/adma.201203921

2. Shu Zhu et al., Advanced Functional Materials, published online: Dec. 13, 2012; DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201202405

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013: Laser markets, trends, analysis

“Global headwinds” is a fair description of current economic conditions. Yet as our Annual Laser Market Review and Forecast points out, laser technology is now so mature, economically important, and advantageous in so many applications that long-term sales predictions for most segments remain strong.

In this year’s Market Review, senior editor Gail Overton, working with our research colleague Allen Nogee at Strategies Unlimited and David Belforte at Industrial Laser Solutions, writes that the 2013 global laser market will rise 3% from 2012, with segments such as micromaterials processing, instrumentation and sensors, and medical lasers leading the growth. To download a copy of this January article, click HERE.

Our annual market review articles continue to be one of the most popular articles on our web site and for years have helped the lasers and photonics community understand the underlying technology drivers and application directions.

Let us know what you think about 2013 in person at SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco, February 2-7 (Booth 800, South Hall). To read our preview of the show, click HERE.

For much more analysis and data on the markets, please join us in San Francisco on February 4, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar with speakers such as keynote Valentin Gapontsev from IPG Photonics.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

In-air touch-enabled display

A hovering display that happens to double as a room humidifier has been created by Displair (Astrakhan, Russia); to produce the in-air effect, a computer image is projected on a thin, upwardly streaming layer of air infused with microscopic water particles. Aided by gesture technology similar to that in Microsoft's Kinect, the user can navigate the screen simply by touching the air layer (see video below). The display was previewed to the public at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2013 (January 8 to 11; Las Vegas, NV).

The water droplets in the stream are so small that fingers stay dry, according to Displair. The company says the display will be available initially in the U.S. later in 2013 and is aimed at high-end consumers, health-care professionals, education, hotels, clubs, restaurants, and digital advertisers. The company received a $1 million round of funding in May 2012 from the Leta Group, a Russian investment and new-products management company.

Although no Laser Focus World editor could make it to CES to see the demo, the display appears to use a conventional 2D projector (sorry, no 3D capabilities!) that projects onto the screen either from the front or the back. Projection from the back (perhaps at an angle to avoid glare) would be preferred so that the user's shadow does not become the display's primary feature.

(This video was provided by Displair and was not taken at CES)

Fog and mist displays have been around for decades in the form of laser light shows combined with fogmaking equipment; more recently, a company called FogScreen has created large (up to 2.4 m) flog-flow light-projection screens.  What the Displair has that the other lacks is the touch capability, which, when combined with the small size, serves as a novelty replacement for a touch computer screen.

(In addition to user-friendliness, the touch capability does show that the technology is safe and benign. Other "hovering image" technologies, such as one developed at UCLA, are very impressive, but are based on mirrors spinning at high speed -- not something you'd want to touch.)

(Source: Marketwire)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Would you "iRobot" with Jules?

The iRobot (Bedford, MA) floor cleaners (promoted on the "iRobot, do you?" television commercials) and even the service robots such as display-bearing office-assistant robots like EMIEW2 from Hitachi (Tokyo, Japan) that bring a video computer into your cubicle for a chat with a long-distance colleague aren't very scary. But have you seen the humanoid robot named "Jules"? If not, take a look at this video on the Vision Systems Design video player ( as creator David Hanson from Hanson Robotics says goodbye to Jules:

Jules was designed by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, and you can watch a more educational video here at for the details.

The videos were brought to my attention by a colleague who sent them around with the email title "Technology gets really, really creepy". After feeling creeped out myself, I sent it around to a few friends to get their impressions, and found a surprising array of responses from both technology-focused and not-so-technology-focused folks (the responses are "anonymous" to protect the at-times-disturbing viewpoints--depending on who you ask). Here are those unvarnished, anonymous responses after watching Jules in action:

1. Not someone to have a beer with after work.

2. Wow! I know where Mitt Romney really comes from.

3. As long as they are friendly it's rather funny.

4. Can you imagine waking up and seeing him in the corner staring at you with that impish grin?

5. One step closer to Blade Runner.

6. You know, that's not a bad looking robot. And so well mannered. Do you think I could get the girl version? Not Jules- Julia? With a full head? I'm particularly interested in one with an off switch like this one had. Are they available on Amazon?

7. (Reply to item 6) Tell your buddy to watch this. And never, ever tell me if he orders one. :)

Item 8 (which was a reply to item 7) is really not appropriate for general audiences. And if you're still curious about these humanoid robots and want to see some of the creepiest, go to Here are a few:

The photo below shows professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University in Japan, with the Geminoid robot he created in his likeness; which is which (or should I say who is who)?

There is also Geminoid-DK, a tele-operated Android in the geminoid series made to appear as an exact copy of its master, asc. professor Henrik Scharfe of Aalborg University in Denmark. Again, who is who?

According to some of the news reports, Jules has high-resolution cameras in his eyes so he can track a person and lock onto them to have a serious conversation. No doubt machine vision and gesture recognition advances will help the robots of the future be even more "animated" than once thought possible. Throw some neural networks in the mix and you've got a scary combination! Technology is great in my opinion, but I agree wholeheartedly that it can be entirely creepy as well. As science fiction truly comes to life, who knows how many of these humanoids are out on the streets walking around with us? And creepier still, just what are their intentions?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top photonics articles in 2012 point to 2013

The top 10 most-read photonics articles in 2012 help predict the hottest topics in 2013: for example, bio-optics, fiber lasers, laser market analysis, military lasers, terahertz technology, and mobile apps. I can think of a few more topics that would be on anyone's list, but these articles from 2012--in order of popularity--should help you ring in the New Year:

1. MEDICAL APPLICATIONS OF FIBER-OPTICS: Optical fiber sees growth as medical sensors

2. 2012 ANNUAL REVIEW AND FORECAST: Economic aftershocks keep laser markets unsettled

3. DIODE-PUMPED SOLID-STATE LASERS: Laser dazzlers are deployed

4. FIBER LASERS: The state of the art

5. OPTICAL DATA STORAGE: Holographic data storage uses volumetric crystal media

6. Sandia laser-guided bullet prototype can hit small targets a mile away

7. Terahertz microchip could let cell phones see through walls

8. How to measure relative intensity noise in lasers

9. FLIR intros thermal imaging camera app for iPad and iPhone

10. 2011 ANNUAL REVIEW AND FORECAST: Skies may be clearing, but fog still lingers

If you're looking for the very latest laser market numbers and more insights into these technologies and products from industry leaders, please join us at the 25th Annual Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar, February 4, in San Francisco during SPIE Photonics West.