The Opportunity in DBR Lasers

John Spencer About The Author

Sun, Jan 08, 2017 @ 12:00 AM

 Laser devices are an enabling technology component of a complex system.  Buried deep inside complex industrial and scientific instruments, the laser device itself and the business of the laser manufacturer are often misinterpreted, particularly when novel laser gain media are involved. The stakes are high in the fight to gain a position in the supply chain, and technical superiority does not guarantee a place within that chain.  

In evaluating potential growth areas in laser markets, one often encounters generic blue sky statements, such as the following, gleaned from recent Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminars*:

  • “The push to [choose your verb:  save costs/miniaturize/speed] could drive the need for [choose your adjective:  many/diode/fiber/higher power] lasers”
    • “Lasers will gradually replace LEDs and will dominate the lighting industry”

These are exciting predictions.  Furthermore, the 2016 Seminar identified the following areas of application where laser suppliers could find new or growing markets:

  • Safety
  • Entertainment
  • Cinema
  • Advertising
  • Sensing
  • 3D Printing
  • Fiber Lasers
  • Ultrafast

While each area may have potential for laser absorption, the more critical question for the device supplier is whether the market offers an attractive proprietary opportunity, or whether the opportunity is that of a commodity.  Furthermore, each area should be screened according to the following criterion:  “What are the unique characteristics that will drive the adoption of a specific laser modality to the exclusion of other, lower cost alternatives?”  That is indeed a very high bar.  If the bar cannot be hurdled, then the device supplier is relegated to being a commodity supplier.  

Lasers clearly have surpassed this bar in some fields, including telecommunications, cutting and welding, specific medical specialties such as ophthalmology, optical data storage, and laser guided munitions.  While we can discuss such technical matters as modes, line widths, M2, and so on, the value proposition rests on the following characteristics:

  • Brightness:  Superior ability to deliver power density
  • Spectrum:  Superior ability to deliver power at a specific wavelength
  • Speed:  Superior ability to modulate, pulse, or deliver low noise CW power

Photodigm has pioneered the monolithic semiconductor distributed Bragg reflector (DBR) laser to enable its competitive adoption in multiple areas through the following characteristics:

  • Single spatial and longitudinal mode, diffraction limited beams, or Brightness
  • Specific narrow line widths for atomic and molecular based instrumentation, or Spectrum
  • Ability to deliver short pulses, high speed modulation, or very low noise CW optical pumping, or Speed.

Having demonstrated these characteristics , Photodigm DBR lasers are being applied to both emerging and established fields such as cold atom physics, magnetometry, navigation, timing, spectroscopy, seeding, low noise optical pumping, and metrology.  They are being employed in research and development where they displace Ti:Sapphire lasers and external cavity lasers at 1/1000 or less of the volume and half to  1/100 of the cost. These development programs can then realistically have a pathway to fieldable OEM applications.  At the same time, as semiconductors, they follow the favorable semiconductor cost curve characterized by high fixed costs and vanishing marginal costs.  

Photodigm DBR lasers:  “The Laser is the Instrument.”



Photodigm's Spectroscopy Certified 780 nm DBR laser exhibits all the characteristics of a key proprietary link in the laser instrument suply chain:  Brightness is diffraction limited.  Spectrum is tightly tuned to the Rb D2 line, and is available with 2 nm mode hop free tuning range.  Speed is capable of high speed modulation and very low noise, with less than 500 kHz tuning range.    

* Held annually on the Monday of Photonics West week, and sponsored by Pennwell.