The way manufacturers build components may be changing, judging by developments emerging from startup NanoOpto Corp.
NanoOpto specializes in making "subwavelength optical elements", or SOEs, which are tiny subcomponents that form the basic building blocks of optical subsystems (see NanoOpto Thinks Small). SOEs perform functions equivalent to simple passive optical components, such as filters and couplers, but there are couple of important differences. One, they are much much smaller, and two, they are easier to align with other subcomponents, according to Barry Weinbaum, the startup's CEO.
NanoOpto makes its subcomponents by imprinting microscopic patterns on the surface of a piece of optical material, such as silica or silicon.
Big deal? Analysts agree that this approach could very important in the future, although they don't see it taking off in a big way until 2005. Paul Kellett, analyst with Pioneer Consulting LLC believes that nanotechnology -- making components with feature sizes on the order of nanometers -- could find a sizeable market once it wins acceptance from the telecom community.
"We believe that if the company's SOEs can do all they promise, the company will be very successful indeed," he says. "There will be a reluctance to adopt such an experimental technology. But this reluctance is offset in part by the tremendous cost savings that SOEs afford."
NanoOpto says it's already making progress. Since many of its customers are adapting SOEs to existing product designs in their product portfolios, NanoOpto doesn't have to wait for customer decisions to go ahead with new products, Weinbaum says, and that has smoothed the way forward.
Indeed, NanoOpto claims to have turned around more than 20 orders over the past few months -- a claim that's impossible to verify. The number may sound surprisingly large, but Weinbaum says it's been possible to fill many different orders for different customers because the same manufacturing line can produce several different types of components.
NanoOpto's shipping products include polarization beam splitters and combiners, which can join or break apart the two polarizations of light. This is an important function, because many optical components have polarization-dependent properties.
The second family of optical subcomponents, introduced this week, is a range of phase-control components (see NanoOpto Intros NanoComponents). Called waveplates, these subcomponents can selectively slow down one polarization of light compared to the other. Since fiber impairments like Chromatic Dispersion and Polarization Mode Dispersion (PMD) result from the polarizations of light getting out of step with each other, this type of subcomponent is key to building subsystems that can compensate for dispersion.
That's not the only application, says Weinbaum. Waveplates are also being used in interleavers, optical switches, and test and measurement gear.
The standard method of making waveplates relies on being able to polish a piece of quartz to a finer and finer thickness, he explains. To slow light down by a very small amount requires a very thin piece of quartz, which is at risk of breaking. NanoOpto's SOEs aren't as difficult to make, he claims, because they are based on imprinted patterns on the surface of a piece of material, rather than the thickness of the stuff.
In fact, at the upcoming NFOEC show NanoOpto plans to demonstrate different ways to integrate multiple optical functions using its technology. Components can be integrated side by side, in stacks, or even with a range of different materials, from silicon to liquid crystals, Weinbaum says.
â€” Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading