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Photonic Integrated Circuits Accessible to Everyone

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PICs4All (Photonic Integrated Circuits Accessible to Everyone)

Reporting period: 2017-07-01 to 2019-06-30

The invention in 1947 of electronic devices based on semiconductor materials has been the start of a tremendous boom in electronic appliances. ICs essentially manipulate electrons. In 1955 it was discovered that particular semiconductor materials are also able to generate light. This formed the basis for Light Emitting Diodes and semiconductor lasers. Semiconductor laser technology has developed itself to the backbone of modern communication technology using glass fibres as the data communication highways around the world. Glass fibre communication technology has enabled the transmission of the huge amounts of data (documents, pictures, music and films) which we currently access through the internet.

Switching optical data signals through the communication networks was for long only possible by converting the light signals to electrical signals, redirecting them and reconverting electrical signals to optical signals again. However, it appears to be possible to switch light directly by using various specific materials properties of semiconductor or dielectric (glass) materials. In this way, tiny optical chips can be made in which photons (instead of electrons) can be manipulated. These optical chips (Photonic Integrated Circuits or PICs) provide a breakthrough in achieving smaller, much cheaper, more powerful and energy efficient data communication devices. Such devices are increasingly applied in high capacity data communication networks. Besides in data communication, many other applications for PICs have been devised. Extremely sensitive temperature sensors, gas sensors or revolutionary medical diagnostic equipment can be made, using the unique properties of light and PICs to manipulate and analyse light signals.

The technology to design and manufacture PICs is readily available but unknown to many companies who could benefit from PIC technology applied in their products. Additionally, application of the PIC technology requires skills which are not as widely spread as the technology to design, manufacture and apply electronic ICs. For this reason the participating parties in the PICS4All project believe that PIC technology is still insufficiently appreciated by many who could benefit from this technology. To boost the use of PIC technology in Europe, the participating parties in PICS4All have established Application Support Centres (ASCs) throughout Europe which potential users can turn to for obtaining help in establishing the technical and economic feasibility of PIC technology for their specific application.
The main objectives of PICs4All are: * promoting the use of the PIC technology; * bringing together academia to explore new photonics technologies and applications and * lower the barrier for using PIC technology by offering hands-on support to companies, especially SMEs who can benefit from photonic integrated technology in the improvement of current appliances or the developement of entirely new ones. These goals have been achieved by:
* active scouting amongst academia and companies for opportunities for the use of PICs;
* reaching out to potential users that are not yet aware of the benefits of PIC’s;
* organizing PIC design courses, workshops;
* connecting users to optical chip designers or providing actual supporting in layout design;
* assist in gaining access to PIC prototype fabrication by foundries who run Multi-Project Wafer runs and
* offering support in the testing of prototype PICs. All the activities are advocated by publicity e.g. newsletters, application notes and participation in conferences and exhibitions.
The support activities were largely free of charge, only limited budget was available for actual making PIC-designs, no budget was available for prototyping. For these actions, additional funding needed to be found.

The results of the project in concrete activities and numbers are:
• The application support centres (ASCs) were established to create a sustainable ecosystem of local experts networked at the European level.
• Outreach to 237 leads, translated to 100 consultancy cases and 50 prototyping trajectories.
• A high level of design (66 ASPIC designs) and testing (37 tested ASPICs) was achieved, far exceeding expectations for 27 designed and tested ASPICs.
• Barriers to exploitation have been extensively analysed, identifying a range of obstacles and remedies.
• Exploitation is seen in terms of the direct uptake of PIC technology with tens of users per year prototyping on open access technology. Developments have been shared in public roadmaps to accelerate eco-system development.
• Dissemination has been implemented and assessed using a wide range of channels and this has been fine-tuned over the duration of the project. Analysis of methods through surveys and interviews has led to increased focus on sixteen ASC authored Application Notes and additional applications notes in the pipeline. Project findings have been analysed in the context of the literature on boundary spanning and application notes have played a key role.
• Conclusions of actions and recommendations highlight the key role ASC networks will have in the future exploitation of new technologies, the need for credibility, and the need to combine deep-technology expertise with customer-oriented support. These skills are expected to be particularly valuable in the development of regional technology hot-spots, digital innovation hubs and access to open access manufacturing services.
• Socio-economic impact is reviewed in terms of future potential. The impact of a new implementation of a KET – namely photonic integration – which offers mass-manufacturable products with advances in miniaturization, cost, performance is challenging to predict, but the PICs4All activities have identified keen interest across a broad range of sectors.
Interviews with the ASCs and users of the project aimed to uncover challenges, best practices, outcomes and insights from monitoring the scouting and support process. In general, users interviewed in the final six months of the project were highly satisfied with the support they obtained from ASCs and the outcome of the consultancy trajectories. A notable observation from both stakeholder groups was the fact that being part of a network of experts (the PICs4All network), contributed to the credibility of the ASCs. This embedding of the ASCs in a European network was highly appreciated by the users.
The development of ASCs in their approach in technology transfer activities and the effectiveness of the interaction with industry was compared with literature in the scientific field of innovation management. An important conclusion is that academics evolve in their approach to technology commercialization over time. Good methods for communication are essential in overcoming knowledge barriers between academia and industry (so-called boundary spanning), strongly supported by adjusting the technology communication to the perspective of the industry (perspective taking). It is also noted that these activities tend to conflict with academic working methods (multiple scheduled commitments) and the requirements to spend time on their core activities of research and education, which often reinforces ‘perspective making’.
PICs4All logo
Scope of the PICs4All support financing
The steps from idea to protoype, as supported by PICS4All Application Support Centres