Scientific and technological contributions to the foundation of a new future technology
Photonically assisted ADC are – despite decades of research and publications – still in their infancy and do currently not serve any technical applications. Nevertheless, the strong need for high-speed signal acquisition in various applications such as high-speed wireless communications beyond 5G or secure wireless transmission indicates the growing importance and the role that photonic ADC can play in the future.
The TeraSlice approach will overcome the shortcomings of previous photonic ADC concepts and has hence the clear potential not only to enter, but also to disrupt technical applications. Specifically, the project will provide the technological foundation for a paradigm shift, which is enabled by a photonic ADC concept with unprecedented bandwidth scalability and fully amenability to chip-scale integration, and which will lay the foundations of a future emerging technology. Importantly, as far as commercial exploitation is concerned, much of the intellectual property that is used in this project resides or will reside in Europe and is accessible to the partners. This includes key patents on chip-scale frequency combs, photonic wire bonds, as well as on devices and system architectures.
Potential for future social or economic impact or market creation
Acquisition of large-bandwidth signals in the 0 … 320 GHz domain is of dramatic interest for a variety of applications, see Section 1.1. These applications comprise areas of high commercial impact, e.g., ultra-broadband wireless communications within and beyond 5G and Internet-of-Things networks or security applications related to next-generation radar systems and secure wireless transmission.
In this context, THA will explore the application potential of the TeraSlice approach for the analysis of radio frequency (RF) spectrum occupation, also referred to as spectrum sensing, which is of highest practical interest in several fields. As an example, in cognitive radio applications, spectrum sensing systems allow to analyze narrowband spectra reserved for wireless communications and to detect the available sub-carriers, such that spectral resources can be efficiently shared. As current technologies do not allow detecting the whole band of interest in a single acquisition, a bulky and heavy channelized receiver is used, scanning different portions one by one35. A solution avoiding the scanning approach by using a single ultra-broadband ADC could reduce the acquisition time down to the desired 100 ns and simultaneously offer compact and powerful RF receivers. As such, it could provide major impetus to cognitive radio applications, for which a worldwide market potential36 of more than 6 billion Euros is expected by 2022. THA is an international leading player in this market.
Similar challenges exist in the area of high-performance radar systems that are addressed both by CNIT and THA as application partners. Radar applications require increasingly large signal bandwidths and carrier frequencies, e.g., for automotive applications, for multi-band radar systems, or for frequency-agile radars that are envisaged for advanced multi-operational systems37. These systems require ultra-wideband ADC for simultaneously acquiring all echoes, thus enabling data fusion for high-resolution detection. Similarly, detection and identification of radars requires ultra-broadband ADC that are sensitive, compact, and robust, making them suitable for mobile applications. Regarding economic impact, THA is among the top three providers of surface and airborne radar systems worldwide, with thousands of units being sold annually. Thales holds approximately 70% of the market of air traffic management. For surface radar, THA holds 50% of the non-US market, together with Leonardo (25%) and Elbit (25%). Regarding airborne radar, THA is by far the main provider followed by SAAB, for the non-US market. The technology developed within TeraSlice will match the specification of the next generation of products and will help THA to further enhance its superior position in this multi-billion Euro market.
More generally, TeraSlice will enable photonic ADC that are disruptive, both with respect to performance and to viability of fully integrated chip-scale systems, and that provide a cost-effective approach to ultra-broadband signal processing. The impact of TeraSlice will hence go far beyond the applications that are directly addressed within the project and unlock new markets with substantial economic potential worldwide. In fact, given the unique expertise and the strong international position of the participating research groups and companies, TeraSlice has the clear potential to reinforce and establish European leadership in the field of high-speed photonic-electronic signal processing. The associated market potential is immense: In a recent report38, the global market for analogue-to-digital converters is expected to grow from 3.5 billion US-$ in 2017 to 5.1 billion US-$ by 2023. Within this market, TeraSlice will address the high-end segment of ultra-wideband ADCs. Assuming a market share of only 5 % for this segment, a total addressable market (TAM) or more than 200 million Euros can be estimated by the end of the project. Note that the main players in the ADC market are essentially US-based companies (e.g., Analog Devices, Texas Instruments), with only one European company (e2v, now part of Teledyne). TeraSlice hence represents an excellent opportunity for Europe to transform its longstanding history of excellence in photonics into an international leadership of a large and profitable high-end market.
Building leading research and innovation capacity across Europe
The consortium includes key research groups, a leading in European enterprise (Thales), and two start-ups (Vanguard Automation and LiGenTec). Regarding the academic partners, the consortium unites leading expertise in several distinct domains that are all essential for the project.
Moreover, the technology developed within TeraSlice can lead to the creation of new start-ups, aiming at developing the concept into a marketable system in close cooperation with LiGenTec and Vanguard Automation.