Dec 7, 2020

From the desk of Zemax CTO: A reflection on 2020 and a look ahead for the optics industry

Category: Industry Trends
2020 has been a unique year, full of challenges as the world has struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic. During these difficult times, it has been encouraging to see the scientific community come together to address our collective problems with unprecedented levels of effort, creativity, and innovation. I have been especially impressed by the varied advancements in the optics and photonics industry throughout the past year, in fields ranging from life sciences to vision for autonomy to mixed reality.

While optics and photonics have always played an integral role in the life sciences industry, this role has carried additional significance in the fight against COVID-19. We have seen the rapid development of scalable, portable systems necessary to monitor the disease (e.g. using thermal imaging for measuring elevated body temperature1), to evaluate transmission mechanisms (e.g. using laser diagnostics), and to sterilize medical and personal protective equipment (using UV-C decontamination chambers2,3). In many cases simulation played a key role in swiftly testing and validating new designs, enabling these designs to be brought to market quickly and affordably. A recent case study4 from Edmund Optics and Allied Vision highlights the role of optics in the development of vision-guided robots for the safe sanitization of hospitals, warehouses, and other frequently populated locations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And the list goes on and on!

The Edmund Optics/Allied Vision case study illustrates another area in which the optics and photonics industry experienced significant growth in 2020, namely optics for autonomous systems. The pandemic has highlighted the need for driverless transportation and inspection systems, accelerating efforts to develop robust surveillance programs using innovative technologies. This includes new ideas for LiDAR5,6 as well as traditional visible camera systems7. Remote sensing has also seen a surge in demand driven by COVID-19, as there is a growing need to be able to conduct visual inspection or surveillance with little to no human interaction. Examples that have seen significant growth over the past year include virtual tours for real estate8 and industrial and agricultural inspection facilitated with remotely operated drones.

In addition to remote inspection, the pandemic has also underlined our growing needs for remote communication. Virtual reality, long thought to be a tool primarily for the gaming industry, is now being viewed as a key technology to help address those needs, and as a result companies like Lynx9 have seen significant increase in market interest over the past year. With underlying technologies behind mixed reality systems continuing to evolve and advance, these systems will only become more and more ubiquitous, in both industrial and consumer markets, in the years to come.

As I look ahead to 2021 and beyond, there are several trends emerging that will drive innovation in the optics and photonics industry. Chief amongst these is the drive towards miniaturization, i.e. the need for optical products to be smaller than ever before. While cost certainly plays a role in this drive, form factor – such as with AR/VR headsets – is also a key consideration. As a result, diffractive optics and metasurfaces are now common components in an optical product design, and an important topic of discussion within the community10. Other trends for the industry include the increasing move from 2D to 3D sensing – be it in medical imaging, machine vision, or environmental surveillance – and the increasing role of computer vision as a part of optical product design. There has never been a better time to be in the optics and photonics industry, and I am excited about the innovations I’m leading at Zemax to advance the industry.

Please join me for my upcoming webinar, Innovating into the future: Zemax customer panel, where I speak with three industry leaders about the future of the optics industry. Register today to save your spot.

Here is looking forward to a great year ahead!

Sanjay Gangadhara
CTO, Zemax

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Innovating into the future: Zemax customer panel (webinar registration page)

What lies ahead for optics in 2021 and beyond (blog post)

Photonics Digital Innovation Hub secures funding for future growth and innovation (blog post)


1 Thermal Imaging for Detecting Elevated Body Temperature | FLIR Systems
2 OpticStudio used in UV-C Mask Decontamination Chambers Construction - Zemax
3 Meet the UC Berkeley scientists using decontamination to tackle COVID-19’s PPE shortage - QB3 Berkeley
4 Optics for Vision-Guided Cleaning Robots | Edmund Optics
5 Lumotive claims ‘industry-first’ LiDAR using liquid its Crystal Metasurfaces and CMOS manufacturing (
6 Baraja Unveils Next Generation LiDAR Sensing Platform With Interference Immunity | Business Wire
7 3D Cameras in autonomous vehicles | Future Markets Magazine (
8 Leveraging 3D Camera Technology for virtual tours - Zemax
9 Lynx | Mixed reality (
10 Flat Optics: Components to Systems | Meetings & Exhibits | The Optical Society (