Ireland Gives Optics the Green Light

Ireland has designs on aiding startups in the optical market. Eblana Photonics is one of the first

December 18, 2001

3 Min Read
Ireland Gives Optics the Green Light

The Irish government has set up a photonics initiative to promote technology transfer. And it has already spawned one startup making lasers, Eblana Photonics.

The main focus of the initiative, called Optronics Ireland, is a program of R&D that's tailored to meeting industry targets. But there is a second agenda: promote Ireland as a location for non-Irish photonics companies.

Plenty of world-class photonics research goes on in Irish universities, but there are only a couple of Irish startups to emerge so far -- Intune Technologies being another.

Rather than build a separate institution, Optronics Ireland is located within five Irish universities, including Trinity College Dublin, and the National Microelectronics Research Centre (NMRC) in Cork. "The best people are in the universities, so let's build on that," notes James O'Gorman, CEO of Eblana.

O'Gorman himself is from Trinity, where he has worked on developing low-cost light emitters. Some of that work is now being commercialized at Eblana. Before that he was at Bell Labs.

Eblana co-founder, JohnHegarty, who is also ex-Trinity College and Bell Labs, led a series of European Union-funded research projects into so-called resonant cavity LEDs (RCLEDs), a type of light emitter that has some of the advantageous properties of Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers (VCSELs) but is easier to make. In fact, his research group collaborated with the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), an institute that recently spun out BeamExpress Inc., a startup that is most probably commercializing RCLEDs (see Swiss Launch Light Emitter Startup).

Eblana is doing something different, O'Gorman says. It has developed low cost side-emitting lasers. Its goal is to solve the manufacturing bottlenecks of active optical components, so that it's possible to get real economies of scale. This, in his view, is lacking in today's photonics industry.

There are two ways to go about this. First, improve process yields. And second, completely remove the manual labor element from the processing. Although automation is taking hold, it's only being established in isolated pockets of optical technology, with important processes still on a cottage-industry level, he notes.

"We want to bring photonics into a more silicon-type manufacturing environment," he says.

Of course, all this could be marketing bluster (Eblanics, as it were). Eblana is not saying how it will solve those manufacturing difficulties, nor what type of technology it has.

The startup, which was founded in January 2001, is still a fairly small show. It has 12 employees, although given that it's planning to outsource as much as possible, it won't require a huge workforce.

The proof, says O'Gorman, will be in the pudding. Eblana launched two products at the ECOC show in Amsterdam -- a pump laser source and a DWDM emitter -- which it is now sampling to a couple of unnamed customers (see Eblana Photonics Debuts). In the new year, it plans to change its Website to reflect that it has moved past the stealth stage and now has products to offer.

Eblana was funded by ACT Venture Capital, Photonics Private Ventures, and private investors. Three institutions hold a stake in the company: Trinity College, the NMRC, and Optronics Ireland. The amount of funding was undisclosed.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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