Tuesday, 23 January 2024

"Safeguarding Europe’s economic sovereignty depends on photonics!" - Photonics21 President Lutz Aschke

Amid calls for nation-states to conduct risk assessments of critical technologies, Photonics21 President Dr Lutz Aschke says photonics will be crucial for protecting Europe's economic and technological interests.

Photonics21 has expressed its support for the European Commission's current plan for nation-states to conduct risk assessments into critical technologies.

In a recent call for heightened vigilance against technology leakage to nations outside of Europe, particularly Russia and China, the Commission has recommended that member states conduct risk assessments in four pivotal technology domains: advanced semiconductors, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and biotechnologies.

But, the role played by light science – which is the driving force behind advanced semiconductors, enabling high-speed data transmission and processing – is unarguably the most critical of the technologies listed by the EU Commission in protecting Europe's technological interests.

Light technologies stand out as a way to achieve strategic autonomy and preserve technological independence. Photonics – the science and technology of utilizing, generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy – is a linchpin that supports and enhances the capabilities of other critical technologies.

In a recent EU Commission consultation on future R&I priorities, more than 2,000 technology experts from all disciplines categorised photonics as one of the most important technologies of the next ten years.

China has recognised the strategic impact of photonics and emerged as the predominant force in this field in the past decades. As a consequence, technology monopolies in photonics are now a real concern. The Australian Technology Institute's report "Critical Technology Tracker: The Global Race for Future Power" names photonics sensors, key for many future megamarkets, as one of the few technologies where the risk of a Chinese monopoly is explicitly high. This is supported by a recent industry survey conducted by Photonics21 and EPIC, which revealed that more than 50 % of EU photonics companies stated a dependency on key sources of goods from China.

While AI and quantum may provide headline-grabbing news stories, photonics is a prerequisite for those future technologies. It is an enabler, ever-present, supporting innovations and technological advancements.

Driving Critical Technologies

A whole host of critical technologies depend on photonics: it is the driving force behind advanced semiconductors, enabling high-speed data transmission and processing in the era of digital transformation. Light science has formed the backbone of artificial intelligence, providing the optical components crucial for machine vision and data communication.

With quantum technologies, for example, photonics plays an indispensable role in the creation and manipulation of quantum states. Quantum technologies have the potential to revolutionise information processing and communication, with implications for both security and computation. But it is only with advanced lasers that we can achieve quantum coherence, which is essential for quantum computing and communication. In biotechnology, photonics facilitates cutting-edge imaging techniques, accelerating advancements in medical diagnostics and treatment.

We would have no high-speed communication without photonics. High-speed communication involves light for communication, which can enable significantly faster data transmission compared to traditional electronic communication. High-speed communication is crucial for various applications, including data centres, telecommunications, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Furthermore, the power consumption of data transmission with light is signigfanctly lower than with electrical signals.

A key application of photonics is fibre optic communication, which is fundamental for long-distance, high-capacity data transmission. This technology is essential for the backbone of modern communication networks, supporting internet connectivity, video streaming, and other data-intensive applications.

Photonics is also instrumental in the development of advanced sensors and imaging technologies. These technologies have applications in various fields, including healthcare, manufacturing, and environmental monitoring. They contribute to the development of smart cities, precision agriculture, and improved medical diagnostics.

Photonics is a flexible and fully digital production tool using versatile laser systems, related manufacturing systems and self adapted process control devices, which provide a wide variety of manufacturing solutions from single products to mass manufacturing.

Sovereignty Through Photonics

Photonics21 President Dr Lutz Aschke says: "Supporting the Commission's call for European self-sufficiency, photonics acts as a cornerstone for technological sovereignty, providing the essential tools and capabilities needed to secure communication, process data, and advance innovations across critical technology areas.

By controlling communication channels, processing data securely, and leading in critical technology areas, European nations can ensure autonomy through technological capabilities. This autonomy is essential for protecting national security, preserving strategic advantages, and reducing overreliance on external entities.

Innovation in critical technology areas fosters economic growth and resilience. Nations that lead in these domains can establish themselves as economic powerhouses, attracting investments, creating high-value jobs, and influencing global trade. Economic sovereignty is achieved by reducing dependence on foreign technologies and by participating in the worldwide economy on one's own terms."

He concludes: "We have many family-run, medium-sized companies in Europe that have the courage, strength and stamina to make long-term investments.In hospitals, laboratories, factories and fields, the potential of photonics is far from exhausted. It is driving the most important transformation processes of our time. Investing in photonics is imperative for Europe to maintain control over its technological future, ensuring a resilient and sovereign position on the global stage."

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