Laser products follow a remarkably consistent trajectory. They start out as large research systems with substantial functionality and flexibility. They fill the optical table. These include Ti:sapphire lasers, Ar-ion lasers, YAG lasers, and CO2 lasers. They also include hybrid semiconductor designs, such as external cavity lasers (ECLs) and volume Bragg lasers (VBGs). As specific applications are developed, specific functionality becomes more important as the researcher optimizes the experiment. As engineers develop products from these experiments, the requirements expand to include ruggedness and cost. The laser component may start out as a large system, but it inevitably ends up as a high volume semiconductor. Examples include optical storage lasers (CDs and DVDs) and telecom lasers. As volumes go up semiconductor economics enters in, costs drop, and high volume products are enabled.
Our customers are leading us along the same pathway. They are moving beyond the research lasers and hybrid designs because they recognize that only the monolithic semiconductor laser offers true semiconductor scalability. Intermediate products including VBGs and ECLs may offer transient advantages in low volumes, but their hybrid design makes them difficult to scale.
The economics of the semiconductor industry is driven by high fixed costs and vanishingly small marginal costs. Simply stated, the experience of going down the learning curve drives costs down rapidly.
One of the major emerging applications for precision lasers is the mobile instrument -- driving volumes in today's markets are those applications carried by people or vehicles. A projector incorporated into a mobile phone finds many more customers than a conference room projector. An analytical instrument carried by a first responder will use many more lasers than a laboratory based instrument.
Photodigm DBR lasers -- monolithic, scalable, and precise -- are key components in the development of mobile instruments including spectrometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, and clocks. Monolithic devices, their semiconductor economics will ensure that they will be uniquely enabling solutions for these applications.