April 23, 2024

Technology Advancements and Emerging Opportunities in Photonic Sensing

Photonic Sensing

Photonic sensing is a technology that uses light to detect and measure environmental changes or identify a specific target. It involves the use of optical systems, such as lasers, fibers, detectors, and photodiodes, to detect changes in light intensity, wavelength, phase, polarization, or time delay caused by changes in the environment or the presence of a target. Advancements in the optics and photonics domain aim to replace conventional technologies that provide advanced functionality in sensing and monitoring applications. The integration of photonic sensors with other technologies, such as electronics (LiDAR), microfluidics, and nanotechnologies, leads to the development of hybrid devices and topologies that can highly impact different applications.  

Photonic sensors can be used in a variety of applications, such as chemical and biological sensing, temperature and pressure sensing, structural health monitoring, environmental monitoring, and security and surveillance. They offer several advantages over traditional sensors, such as high sensitivity, fast response time, immunity to electromagnetic interference, and the ability to monitor remote or inaccessible locations. 

Organizations across the globe aim to expand the functionalities of photonic sensors from various aspects and diversify the potential capabilities in biological and chemical sensing modalities. Some noteworthy R&D areas include thermal stability analysis, enhancing sensitivity levels, low detection limit, high tunability, newer materials, flexibility in terms of structure, and self-assembly. It is interesting to note that researchers are also exploring stretchable and self-adhesive photonic sensors that are biocompatible for underwater motion detection applications. Photonic crystal sensors for wearables and terahertz imaging are other areas garnering a lot of attention from the research community.

Some interesting sensors include fiber optic sensors, surface plasmon resonance sensors, photonic crystal sensors, and microresonator sensors. Such sensors are becoming increasingly important in many industries, including healthcare, telecommunications, energy, and aerospace. They are expected to play a key role in the development of smart cities and in enabling the internet of things (IoT) concept.

Some of the prominent companies working on photonic sensors are ON Semiconductor, OMRON Corporation, Banner Engineering Corp., Pepperl+Fuchs GmbH, Hamamatsu Photonics K.K., Applied Nanotools and Synaptec Ltd. Prime Photonics, LC, Banpil Photonics Inc., NP Photonics Inc., One Silicon Chip Photonics Inc., Bayspec Inc., FISO Technologies Inc., A2 Photonic Sensors SAS, Ibsen Photonics A/S, Smart Fibres Limited, BBN International Limited, and Baumer Electric AG. 

Startups such as Optics11, Optitune, and Luminate are developing innovative photonic sensing technologies, including fiber optic sensors, plasmonic biosensors, and metasurface-based sensors.

Developments in Photonics Driving R&D Innovations in Sensors

Nanophotonics: The development of nanophotonic structures enabled the creation of highly sensitive and selective sensors that can detect small changes in the environment or a target.

Plasmonics: Plasmonic sensors use the interaction between light and surface plasmons, which are oscillations of free electrons in metals, to enhance the sensitivity of the sensor. This has led to the development of highly sensitive biosensors for medical and environmental applications. Plasmonic biosensors detect the presence of biological molecules. These sensors offer high sensitivity and selectivity and have potential applications in medical diagnostics, environmental monitoring, and food safety.

Optical fiber technology: The use of optical fibers for sensing applications has expanded greatly over the years. Newer configurations, such as hollow core fibers and microstructured fibers, are explored to develop distributed sensing, where measurements are made along the entire length of the fiber. Distributed fiber optic sensors, such as distributed temperature sensors (DTS) and distributed acoustic sensors (DAS), have been developed for applications such as structural health monitoring, oil and gas pipeline monitoring, and perimeter security. These sensors can measure temperature or acoustic vibrations along the entire length of a fiber optic cable, allowing for real-time monitoring of large areas.

Chip-scale sensors: Advances in microfabrication technology have led to the development of photonic sensors that are small enough to be integrated onto a single chip. Chip-scale photonic sensors, also known as photonic integrated circuits (PICs), are becoming increasingly common. These sensors are small, lightweight, and can be integrated with other electronic components on a single chip. These chip-scale sensors have applications in biomedical sensing, telecommunications, and environmental monitoring.

Metasurface-based sensors: Metasurfaces are artificial structures that can manipulate the properties of light. Metasurface-based sensors can be designed to detect changes in the environment or a target, including changes in temperature, pressure, or refractive index. These sensors have potential applications in biomedical sensing, environmental monitoring, and chemical sensing.


The adoption of photonic sensing technologies presents numerous opportunities for businesses and governments to improve their operations and gain a competitive edge. By leveraging the benefits of high accuracy, sensitivity, and real-time monitoring, organizations can enhance their decision-making processes, reduce costs, and increase efficiency. Manufacturers must invest in research and development of photonic sensing technology and explore new applications to remain competitive.

Various business models such as device sales, service, subscription, and licensing depend on the specific market, target customers, and competitive landscape. It is important for companies to understand customers’ needs and preferences and develop innovative products through strategic partnerships to succeed in the photonic sensing industry. Furthermore, collaborations between academia, industry, and government can help accelerate the pace of innovation and drive the commercialization of photonic sensing solutions.

Authored By: Varun Babu, Industry Analyst, and Kasthuri Jagadeesan, Director, TechVision, Frost & Sullivan

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