AFRL Aids Effort to Stand up New Capabilities in Photonics Research
By Staff, Air Force Research Laboratory
/ Published September 02, 2015
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) recently helped give photonics manufacturing research a boost by aiding the establishment of the Integrated Photonics Manufacturing Innovation Institute (IP-MII).
Photonics, the science of generating and controlling light to perform specific functions, is a useful enabler for personal, everyday applications as well as scientific ones.
Rochester, N.Y., will be the site for the IP-MII, part of a White House plan to establish 45 Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation. The focus of this particular MII will be the development of a "photonics ecosystem" in the US―to encompass photonics electronic design automation, production, packaging, test and workforce development from tip to tail. The effort is part of a plan to make photonics more affordable and available, and to bridge the US gap between applied photonics research and product development.
AFRL, teaming with experts from organizations including the Naval Research Laboratory, Army Research Laboratory, NASA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation, contributed expertise to make the center a reality. By studying the needs within the academic and industrial communities, AFRL and partners were able to define a business case to allow the US Department of Defense to put the plan into action.
The establishment of the IP-MII is expected to benefit photonics research and manufacturing efforts in many ways. Because of the resulting increased US photonics development capability, these technologies will be more affordable to low-volume manufacturers, allowing for the production of market-relevant quantities of photonics applications. Air Force small business contracts related to photonics for military and civilian applications will now have an easier path to bring these technologies to market without the overhead typically associated with establishing production capabilities on an individual, project-by-project basis.
Photonics technologies are an important part of many commercial and warfighter applications. Improved foundry-level photonics capabilities are expected to bring a new level of affordability in key areas such as telecommunications and radio-frequency (RF) systems. Health, environmental, and threat detection technologies that utilize optical sensing can also benefit, as well as robotics and collision avoidance systems.
The utilization of integrated photonics has been an ongoing effort of research collaboration between the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate and the Sensors Directorate, with early studies indicating not only a significant decrease in size and weight, but also an increase in reliability as well as RF operating bandwidth when switching from all-electronic RF cabling to optical fiber for signal distribution and processing.
The photonics center is expected to bring direct benefits to AFRL for a variety of technologies such as improved UAV sensors, very high bandwidth electronic-photonic hybrid systems, and human performance monitoring, to name only a few.