Oct 21, 2021

CTO Insights: Celebrating the International Day of Photonics

Category: Industry Trends
Join Zemax in Celebrating the International Day of Photonics on October 21, 2021

As we celebrate this year’s International Day of Photonics, it is a great opportunity to reflect upon and recognize the growing role of optics and photonics in the world around us. Throughout the past year, I have highlighted the importance of optics and photonics in a wide range of industries, from life sciences to manufacturing, aerospace and defense to consumer electronics and entertainment. During our recent Envision conferences, I had the honor of observing how Zemax solutions are influencing the design and development of several different applications in these field. In particular, I was struck by the diverse manner in which optics and photonics are serving the automotive industry.

Optics are critical for advanced driver assistance systems and in the support of achieving level 5 autonomy for self-driving vehicles. Relevant optical systems include both visible imaging cameras and LIDAR. While LIDAR technologies have been available for some time, traditional systems are too bulky and expensive to be deployed in volume. Significant investments have gone into developing new technologies to address these issues, and silicon photonics are playing an increasingly important role. Using photonic integrated circuits, the full LIDAR assembly – from light source to transmitter and receiver optics to image sensor – can be placed directly on a chip, reducing size, cost, and power consumption. For such devices mechanical motion is no longer required for beam steering; optically phased arrays, VCSEL arrays, or diffraction gratings can be used instead. For example, at Zemax Envision Americas Baraja described their use of diffractive optical elements for beam steering to achieve high resolution at long range1. CMOS fabrication technologies are subsequently being leveraged across the industry for manufacturing these LIDAR systems on a chip, further enabling the production of low-cost systems at scale.

Optics support both the imaging systems as well as the lighting and illumination systems on a vehicle. Substantial advancements have been made in recent years for both interior and exterior lighting modules, many of which are being driven with micro-optic and diffractive optic technologies. For example, Texas Instruments has developed a dynamic ground projection technology using digital micromirror devices2 that can be used in the development of advanced turn indicators and light carpets. At Zemax Envision Europe, SUSS MicroOptics3 provided further examples of using microlens arrays and other micro-optic technologies in the development of headlights, taillights, and interior projection lighting. While imaging systems such as cameras and LIDAR are critical for the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles, lighting and illumination systems play an equally important role, by enhancing the vehicles’ ability to sense the outside world and vice versa.

The goal of the International Day of Photonics is to promote optics and photonics as key enabling technologies for innovation occurring throughout the world. There is no better time than to celebrate this reality! While today I highlight the role of optics and photonics in automotive, optics and photonics are embedded in all parts of our lives, and its role is only growing. Happy International Day of Photonics everyone!


Sanjay Gangadhara
Chief Technology Officer

To learn more about Zemax optical design software, try it for free.


  1. https://www.baraja.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BarajaSpectrumScanTMWhitepaper.pdf
  2. https://www.ti.com/lit/wp/slyy187/slyy187.pdf
  3. https://www.suss-microoptics.com/en