Photonics play an important role driving innovation in an increasing number of fields. The application of photonics spreads across several sectors: from optical data communications to imaging, lighting and displays; from the manufacturing sector to life sciences, health care, security and safety.

Photonics offers new and unique solutions where today's conventional technologies are approaching their limits in terms of speed, capacity and accuracy. The impact of photonics in our daily lives is remarkable.

Our health

The ability of light to detect and measure in a fast, sensitive and accurate way gives photonics a unique potential to revolutionise healthcare. Biophotonics is the use of light-based technologies in the bio & medical sciences. It can be used effectively for very early detection of diseases, with non-invasive imaging techniques or point-of-care applications. Biophotonics is also instrumental to the analysis of processes at the molecular level, giving a greater understanding of the origin of diseases, and hence allowing prevention and new treatments. Photonic technologies also play a major role in addressing the needs of our ageing society: from pace-makers to synthetic bones and from endoscopes to the micro-cameras used in in-vivo processes.

Lighting and Energy savings

Photonics are used also in advanced lighting technology, such as Solid State Lighting (SSL) for general lighting applications. SSL is based on light emitting diodes (LEDs) and organic LED (OLED) technologies. It provides higher quality lighting and contributes to substantial energy savings. Intensive manufacturing and research activities aim to further improve SSL performance - particularly energy efficiency and quality - and therefore reduce costs. The European Union has committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 2020 and to improving energy efficiency by 20 %. Lighting adds up to 19% of electricity consumption worldwide, thus more efficient lighting will provide huge energy savings. For example, the replacement of incandescent bulbs with SSL technologies would save up to 70% of the energy used today in lighting.
Moreover, SLL lighting possesses outstanding unique properties - including robustness, lifetime, dimming and colour tunability, that offers unprecedented opportunities to shape and adjust the lighting environment to accommodate individual needs.

The Commission supports advanced research in this area; two "pilot actions" demonstrating applications of this new technology have been launched in 2012. In addition, the Commission in December 2011 published the Green Paper "Lighting the Future: Accelerating the Deployment of Innovative Lighting Technologies". The Green Paper suggests several new policies to accelerate the wide deployment of high-quality SSL products and services in Europe, which are supported by a vibrant and globally competitive European lighting industry.

Broadband Internet

The need for faster, more transparent, dynamic and greener broadband networks drives the EU research policy in the field of optical data communications. It addresses the dramatic increase of power consumption on the web, in data centres and servers. It allows traffic growth, fast network changes and varying traffic demands while making data communications faster, cheaper and less energy consuming.

Safety and security

Photonics is a key enabler for enhancing the safety and security of people, goods and the environment. It makes possible to build contactless sensors and visual applications operating in various ranges of the light spectrum (from X-ray to Terahertz), sufficiently sensitive and accurate to reliably detect potential hazards or dangerous situations. Photonics technologies have several practical applications in safety and security: from fibre sensors useful to detect structural defects in the building sector, prevent environmental pollution or to develop driver assistance systems to security applications like biometrics and border security systems, video surveillance systems and equipment to detect dangerous or illegal goods.

High Quality Manufacturing

Lasers have become a versatile tool; laser processing has become essential for high-volume, low-cost and precision manufacturing. New laser-based technologies stimulate new manufacturing processes with extraordinary quality that allows mass customisation and highly flexible production on demand, rapid, clean and resource-efficient manufacturing and zero-fault production. Europe is a leader in industrial laser technologies - developing, supplying and applying lasers and laser systems. They are used for example in the automotive industry, for the treatment of plastics, as well as for the manufacture of photovoltaic cells, semiconductors and miniaturised components for use in medical technology, etc.

To find out more about Photonics, you can also visit Photonics21, the European Technology Platform, or contact us for further information.