News Feature | January 25, 2023

Bright Ideas — Navigation On The Moon, Tiny 3D Materials Could Increase Fuel Cell Efficiency, 5G RAN Is Growing But Total Ran Growth Is Slowing, And More

John Oncea

By John Oncea, Editor


Bright Ideas presents the most captivating news and innovations in optics and photonics. This week, we look at more precise X-ray imaging, The Moody Lab’s development of a method for the on-chip generation of a single photon, an industry collaboration that resulted in a new era of 3D cameras, and more.

“Super-thin chips made from lithium niobate are set to overtake silicon chips in light-based technologies, with potential applications ranging from remote ripening-fruit detection on Earth to navigation on the Moon,” writes Science News. RMIT University's Distinguished Professor Arnan Mitchell and University of Adelaide's Dr. Andy Boes led a team of global experts including scientists from Peking University in China and Harvard University in the United States in working with industry to make navigation systems that are planned to help rovers drive on the Moon later this decade. “This is not science fiction – this artificial crystal is being used to develop a range of exciting applications. And competition to harness the potential of this versatile technology is heating up,” said Mitchell, Director of the Integrated Photonics and Applications Centre.

Precise X-ray imaging is on the way thanks to scientists who demonstrated quantum recoil for the first time. writes, “ For the first time since it was proposed more than 80 years ago, scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore have demonstrated the phenomenon of "quantum recoil," which describes how the particle nature of light has a major impact on electrons moving through materials. Making quantum recoil a practical reality should eventually allow businesses to produce X-rays of specific energy levels more accurately, leading to superior accuracy in healthcare and manufacturing applications such as medical imaging and flaw detection in semiconductor chips.”

Scientists from UNSW Sydney have demonstrated a novel technique for creating tiny 3D materials that could eventually make fuel cells like hydrogen batteries cheaper and more sustainable. In the study published in Science Advances, researchers from the School of Chemistry at UNSW Science show it’s possible to sequentially ‘grow’ interconnected hierarchical structures in 3D at the nanoscale which have unique chemical and physical properties to support energy conversion reactions. “To date, scientists have been able to assemble hierarchical-type structures on the micrometer or molecular scale,” says Professor Richard Tilley, Director of the Electron Microscope Unit at UNSW and senior author of the study. “But to get the level of precision needed to assemble on the nanoscale, we needed to develop an entirely new bottom-up methodology.”

Quantum devices today are “about where the computer was in the 1950s,” which is the very beginning. That’s according to Kamyar Parto, a sixth-year Ph.D. student in the UC Santa Barbara lab of Galan Moody, an expert in quantum photonics and an electrical and computer engineering assistant professor. Parto is the co-lead author of a paper published in the journal Nano Letters, describing a key advance: the development of a kind of on-chip “factory” for producing a steady, fast stream of single photons, essential to enabling photonic-based quantum technologies. “You have superconducting qubits, spin qubits in silicon, electrostatic spin qubits, and ion-trap-based quantum computers,” said Parto. “Microsoft is trying to do topologically protected qubits, and in the Moody Lab, we’re working on quantum photonics.” Parto predicts that the winning platform will combine different platforms, given that each is powerful but has limitations. “For instance, it’s very easy to transfer information using quantum photonics, because light likes to move,” he said. “A spin qubit, however, makes it easier to store information and do some local ‘stuff’ on it, but you can’t move that data around. So, why don’t we try to use photonics to transfer the data from the platform that stores it better, and then transform it again to another format once it’s there?”

According to Dell’Oro Group, after four years of extraordinary growth that propelled the radio access network (RAN) market to reach new record levels, the RAN market is now transitioning from the expansion phase to the next phase in this 5G journey with more challenging comparisons and slower growth. “It is still early days in the 5G journey but at the same time, the coverage and capacity phases that have shaped the CAPEX cycles with previous technology generations still hold,” said Stefan Pongratz Vice President and analyst with the Dell’Oro Group. “Still, even with the expected changes in capital intensities as the operators reach their initial 5G coverage targets, the plethora of 5G frequencies taken together with the upside from FWA and eventually private 5G, will curb the peak-to-trough decline relative to 2G-4G,” continued Pongratz.

Jabil Inc. announced that its optical design center in Jena, Germany, is currently demonstrating a prototype of a next-generation 3D camera with the ability to seamlessly operate in both indoor and outdoor environments up to a range of 20 meters. Jabil, ams OSRAM, and Artilux combined their proprietary technologies in 3D sensing architecture design, semiconductor lasers, and germanium-silicon (GeSi) sensor arrays based on a scalable complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology platform, respectively, to demonstrate a 3D camera that operates in the short-wavelength infrared (SWIR), at 1130 nanometers. “For too long, industry has accepted 3D sensing solutions limiting the operation of their material handling platforms to environments not impacted by the sun. The new SWIR camera provides a glimpse of the unbounded future of 3D sensing where sunlight no longer impinges on the utility of autonomous platforms,” said Ian Blasch, senior director of business development for Jabil’s Optics division. “This new generation of 3D cameras will not only change the expected industry standard for mid-range ambient light tolerance but will usher in a new paradigm of sensors capable of working across all lighting environments.”