“A highly dynamic field of innovation"

As General Chairs of the SPIE Digital Optical Technologies 2023, SPIE President Dr. Bernard C. Kress, Head of XR Hardware at Google, and Prof. Juergen Czarske, Director of BIOLAS – Biomedical Computational Laser Systems Center and of Institute for Circuits and Systems, TU Dresden, speak about expanding applications of digital optical techniques, AI as a driving force in this dynamic field of innovations, and the highlights of this year's conference.

What are the focuses of the SPIE Digital Optical Technologies 2023?

Czarske: Digital optical technologies are a highly dynamic field of innovation that is becoming more and more crucial for a huge number of applications. This goes far beyond smart glasses and immersive displays for augmented, virtual, or mixed reality (xR) applications: Be it automotive and robotics technology, data communication, biomedicine, the Internet of Things (IoT) or mobile broadband data communication via 6G - sooner or later you will meet digital optical processes. Our conference explores this field of innovations from three directions. Digital in design, digital in manufacturing and digital in operation. Each of these is backed up by a wealth of presentations that address the respective challenges. In design, the topics include issues of topological optimization or the possibilities of iterative and non-iterative real-time optimization exploiting deep learning methods. At manufacturing, the focus will be on lithography techniques as well as novel additive or subtractive manufacturing techniques including digital 3D printing. The presentations on the operation of digital optical processes are mainly dedicated to the capabilities of highly dynamic digital reconfiguration of functions, imaging, and display and sensing functionality.

Kress: I would like to briefly add some background to the conference. We are deliberately not specifying any topics because digital optical technologies, as a typical cross-sectional technology, are used in very different applications. We are still defining a clear scope. The papers submitted will make an important contribution to this, because the definition can only come from the community. Originally, the term goes back to the Digital Optics Corporation (DOC), founded in 1995 to address optical computing. At the time, the physical limits of conventional processors appeared to have been reached. Around millennium, forecasts followed that all optical storage would soon be holographic. This was followed by the hype of optical telecom and finally xR. Currently, there is a lot of talk about computational imaging and computational display combined with artificial intelligence (AI). The high expectations have so far only been fulfilled in optical telecom and optical interconnects on computers. But many foundations laid since 1995 are now becoming useful for quantum computing, which in many cases relies on silicon photonics, which can bridge the gap from cryo to conventional computing. What I want to express with this side note is that digital optical technologies are a typical enabling technology that can become fruitful for many applications. The hypes fade, but digital optical technologies remain. This is how the diversity of applications that Juergen just described comes about. Whether sensor technology, automotive LiDAR, biophotonics, metaverse and much more. First the hype, then the Valley of Death and finally the broad application with steady growth. With our conference, we offer a platform that provides space for this innovation.

Are there currently any fascinating technology trends in your segment of photonics?

Czarske: Absolutely. We are seeing display technologies being increasingly applied to imaging and sensing at different scales. Examples include the use of hybrid refractive/diffractive optics in the field of macro-optics, or the increasingly clear trend toward exploiting the possibilities of silicon photonics for micro-optics. And in the field of nano-photonics, optical meta-surfaces (OMs) – i.e., surfaces patterned at sub-wavelength scales that allow for the very effective manipulation of light - are evidence for the ongoing technology transfer. Yet another highly exciting trend is the increasingly widespread use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), or deep neural networks (DNN). These promise enormous potential, especially for biomedical applications, and are already becoming game changers.

Which conference highlights would you like to draw the LASER community’s attention to?

Kress: We are excited to feature a plenary talk by Sanjay Gangadhara, the senior program director for optics at U.S. simulation software specialist Ansys Inc., in which he will explain the driving role of end-to-end simulation in propelling the new wave of optics and photonics innovation. Mark your calendars for this on Monday, June 26, 2023, from 9:10 - 09:55. This is deliberately not about the specific application, but about the design of digital optical building blocks. Simulation-based design has a key role in pushing our technology forward and better understanding optical phenomena in miniaturized systems. The developers of these design tools need the feedback and interaction with our community to address and integrate every aspect of this broad field of innovation.

Czarske: On the other hand, our six Invited Talks shed light on promising new application fields. Tomas Sluka of CREAL SA (Switzerland) will address a "Light field-AR combiner enabling prescription correction and aesthetic lenses." We have also invited Pablo Artal from the University of Murcia in Spain, who will talk about Wearable Adaptive Optics, for visual applications. UK researcher Kaan Akşit is going to contribute a talk on next generation computational approaches for holographic displays. And finally, we have three U.S. teams whose invited talks will cover a new optical scanning approach to image processing and holography, discuss the potential of solid-state lidar and all-day-wearable AR display using MEMS SLM, and present a roadmap for integrating the afore mentioned meta-surfaces into optical systems. But besides all the science, we should also use the opportunity to meet again in Munich for personal contacts and strengthening our community. Our program offers a whole series of special events to get into conversation with each other over beer & pretzels or lunch. Right at the beginning of the World of Photonics Congress, there will be the Welcome Reception in Munich's Augustiner Stammhaus (June 25, 19:00 - 21:30 CEST), to which we warmly invite all participants. We look forward to seeing you!

More information and the SPIE Digital Optical Technologies program can be found here.