Optical metamaterials ready to disrupt with optics market
Novel materials range from corrective lenses to industrial, medical, aerospace and other equipment
Optical metamaterials use carefully controlled nanostructures to manipulate visible light, enabling lighter and thinner optics for everything from eyeglasses to mobile phone cameras. The technology to design and manufacture optical metamaterials is rapidly maturing, making commercial adoption likely soon, according to Lux Research, a leading provider of tech-enabled research and innovation advisory services. The potential $50 billion market ranges from corrective lenses and consumer devices to industrial, medical, aerospace, automotive, and military equipment.
The report from Lux explores the market readiness of optical metamaterials while identifying opportunities and challenges. A growing number of startups are forming, and large corporations are showing significant interest, including partnerships, investments, and product launches from Lockheed Martin, Intel, 3M, Edmund Optics, Airbus, Applied Materials, and TDK.
“Optical metamaterials will impact niches within the lens market in the next year,” says Anthony Vicari, Analyst at Lux Research and lead author of the report. “Lack of production infrastructure and of device designers familiar with the technology have held back progress so far, but design and production technologies have matured rapidly in the past few years.”
Optical metamaterials are important to the market over incumbents for these key reasons:
- Greater control over direction, transmission, and focusing of light on all major performance axes
- Ability to access novel capabilities including negative, tunable, and complex refractive indices
- Ability to combine multiple optical functions, such as higher-order image corrections, in a single device layer, making for thinner and lighter products
“The total market for optical metamaterials will likely reach several billion dollars this decade,” Vicari noted. “Optical metamaterials will begin to disrupt conventional optics in some markets soon, and they have the potential in the longer run to displace conventional optics entirely – representing a huge opportunity for materials and equipment companies to gain market share.” While metamaterials are fundamentally a design technology, optimized formulations and equipment can improve reliability, scalability, cost, and ease of design, and startups can address these needs better with large company partners. As adoption increases, the equipment and materials markets for conventional optics will shift and likely decline.