The Disruptive Technology You Didn’t See Is Coming

self-driving car

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A review of the growing field of meta-optics finds that the eyes of robots and self-driving cars will see more than humans.

Meta-optics is advancing science and technology far beyond the 3,000-year-old optical paradigm we rely on for visual human-machine interfaces, such as through the cameras in our phones, microscopes, drones, and telescopes. Optics are the technological bottleneck that Meta Optics aims to transform, bringing something out of a sci-fi story into everyday devices.

The field, which flourished in the early 2000s with the conceptualization of negative-index materials that could form perfect lenses, has grown rapidly over the past five years and now produces around 3,000 papers per year.

The inability of scientists and technologists to harness this accelerating volume of research has prompted Natural Photonics The review was commissioned by Professor Dragomir Neshev, a leader in the field of metaoptics research, Director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optics Systems, Australian National University, Professor of Physics, and Professor Andrey Miroshnichenko of the University of New South Wales, Canberra.

They found that the field was on the verge of industrial disruption.

“The greatest driving force in the field of meta-optics comes from the integration of meta-optics components and devices into optical systems for consumer optoelectronic applications,” the authors write.

“Importantly, meta-optical systems enable new applications that were previously unimaginable, adding to what is known as Industry 4.0. Such applications include the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, wearables, augmented reality and remote sensing.”

The importance of the technology is illustrated by massive investments by industry giants such as Apple, Google and Samsung, which have been recruiting graduates and investing in the field, especially in developing vision applications.

But beyond vision, the authors point out, meta-optics’ unconventional properties could have applications in light sails, LiFi, and thermal management.

These properties arise from the use of meta-optics with surfaces patterned with regular nanoscale structures, in contrast to traditional mirror and lens optics. The result is tiny components that can scatter and manipulate light in ways that surprised Isaac Newton.

The first commercial components using these properties are already on the market, with companies such as Metalenz, NILT technologies and Meta Materials Inc offering planar metalens, polarization imaging, microscopy and biosensing.

These devices can also capture properties of light that cannot be detected by the human eye — such as polarization and phase — and can even be used to engineer and manipulate quantum states of light for quantum imaging, sensing and communications.

But the authors also see challenges in the field. The first of these is the ability to scale to an industrial process compatible with current industry-standard CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) fabrication technologies—especially since most meta-optical components rely on transparent substrates, which CMOS does not.

Second, they found that the ability to make tunable or reconfigurable metamaterials to enable dynamic components—like pixels on a TV screen that can change color many times per second—is elusive.

“This is an unsolved problem, and we present it as the main challenge of the field. It’s a key element of the field, and everyone needs it now,” says Prof. Neshev.

“There’s a misconception that it’s already been done — that people have taken small steps and predicted a distant future in their papers. But no one has actually been able to modulate the phase of a large array at the pixel level.”

Professor Neshev said that if these challenges can be resolved, meta-optics technology has great potential.

“As a platform, Meta Optics is so flexible that it can be used in any product — for example, phones, computers, cars, satellites.”

“It provides the ultimate miniaturization of optical components in terms of size weight and power; it enables human-machine interfaces that cannot be achieved with traditional optics — such as 3D vision and augmented reality, which are really difficult with traditional optics,” Neshev said. said the professor.

“Finally, if we can modify the phase of the light passing through the component, then we will be able to do almost any image processing. This will be a major game changer.”

More information:
Dragomir Neshev, Intelligent Vision Using Metasurfaces, Natural Photonics (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41566-022-01126-4.

Courtesy of ARC Center of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optics Systems

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