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my speech at the 2013 prism awards

Several people have asked for my speech from last nights prism awards ceremony.
I am sure the video will post soon.
here it is. I slightly tweaked the words in the actual delivery.

Good evening. Congratulations to all of the finalists of the prism awards who are here this evening. I wish you all much success.

I want to thank Karen and Tom at Photonics Media and Peter, Eugene and Everyone at SPIE for the honor of serving as a judge again this year and as a presenter this evening. This is such a wonderful event and competition.

The quality of submissions this year has been quite breathtaking. Well done!

To make some of intelligent statement about our industry, it is interesting if you take a second to look backwards a bit.

The 20th century was an era of amazing technological growth, most of it fueled by our ability to harness the power of the electron.

Since the creation of the transistor, we have seen the creation of whole new industries enabled by microelectronics. It was a fundamental inflection point.

Think about the remarkable transition we saw after the transistor was created at Bell Labs.

The latest CPU has over 2 and a half billion transistors and an fpga is commercially available with almost 7 billion.

And not a single one of those could be made without photonics technologies.

It has been said that the 21st century will be the era of the Photon. I agree with that statement.

Unfortunately as an industry, we are hidden behind the scenes. If Intel is inside, we are kind of in sitting in the corner of the room, being shy.

We enable the displays, the backlights, the communications networks for our wireless obsession. Most of the devices in our pockets have not one, but two multi megapixel cameras in them.

But other than us, who else really understands what we do?

As an industry we need to come together to usher in this new era of photonics.

It is my opinion and perspective that we are still in the vacuum tube era of photonics.

Let’s face it, for the most part we still make a majority of our lenses the same way Newton did back in the 17th century.

You may disagree with my perspective on this, but I choose to look at it this way. I look around the exhibit floor at photonics west in awe already. Especially since I know the best is yet to come.

We need to reinvent ourselves a bit. We need to find new and better ways to collaborate. Especially across disciplines since we are fundamentally an enabling technology. We need to find ways to discover our inflection point. Maybe it is a series of smaller ones that all add up, but we need them, and need them now.

We have witnessed pockets of explosive growth. Look at what has happened when our bulky high power lasers were replaced by efficient kW class fiber lasers.

There are even more opportunities in new photonics driven technology like all silicon photonic chips driving tomorrow’s data center.

The good news is that we are getting there. The photonics industry is ideally positioned to leverage new innovation models. We need to embrace them, not fortify the castle and resist.

The future is ours for the taking and I am looking forward to the ride!!!

The first category this evening is the engine for photonics based discovery, scientific lasers.

These lasers are at the tip of the scientific discovery arrow. They enable new science and new applications to emerge. They are used by physicists and biologists.

The finalists tonight offer access to new wavelengths, new ways to control ultrafast pulses and better, faster, and more detailed medical diagnostics and treatments, all enabled by our ability to harness the power of the photon.

Let’s see the finalists.

Overcoming the Valley of Death

Welcome to the new Open Photonics blog. In this blog we will cover a bunch of different subjects. We will use this as a tool to facilitate discussion, bring out new ideas, and report on some of the latest developments within the Optics and Photonics development community.

Let me start my first blog with a quick introduction on why I started Open Photonics.

I started Open Photonics because I saw the need to change the paradigm on how photonics technology is brought out of the research lab and into commercialization.

As we say on our homepage: “We accelerate the commercialization of photonics technologies by facilitating unprecedented collaboration between established companies with channels to market with researchers/inventors having new ideas that they want to see commercialized.”

I’ve seen a lot of really cool ideas go nowhere because researchers didn’t have an understanding of what it took to get their idea commercialized. Not because the technology didn’t work, but rather because they didn’t understand the markets or the true value of what they had invented. There’s a difference between invention and innovation. This will be a subject of the future blog post.

Likewise I watched large companies fall into the trap of incrementalism, launching derivative product,after derivative product, because that was the safer thing to do.

These larger companies all say that they want to do the bigger, bolder projects. But it’s almost impossible to do so in today’s economic environment. The risk of failure is just too high. It’s safer to hit single after single after single, than it is to swing for the fences and fail.

No one ever gets fired for making the safe decision!

These two communities (companies and inventors) need each other!

The researchers and inventors have great ideas. They have access to the latest equipment, they have access to an infrastructure that is amazing. They are swinging for the fences. And even better, some government agency probably paid millions of dollar, euros, pounds, yen or RMB to put that infrastructure together. They can prove out the idea concept and then make a prototype for a fraction of the cost that a company could do it if they have to start from scratch.

Despite being filled with really smart people, most companies really struggle with the early-stage technology. The days of being able to do early-stage development inside companies are almost gone unless you are a GE or Philips. Which is interesting actually considering those two companies are some of the biggest open innovation practitioners in the world.

Every time I go to a conference, read journal articles or visit researchers in their labs, I am blown away with the opportunities for Photonics technologies. And yet the common thread I see is how little these researchers understand what it takes to turn their great idea into a product. Now this is not a 100% generalization. Some do. We want to work with both types.

Going forward when I discuss our industry, I’m referring to the Photonics industry. Which actually is a bit of a misnomer because I really don’t think there’s a Photonics industry. We are an enabling technology. The potential and opportunities for photonics technologies enabling new products, new applications, new spaces is unbelievable. Photonics technology is used everywhere. It is ubiquitous in our life, and yet no one really notices it. They don’t notice it because there’s really no photonics industry. But I digress as this most likely will be a topic of yet another future blog post.

On this blog you will watch us try and overcome the valley of death. The great news is we’re not doing this alone. We have incredible support from SPIE and PennWell publishing. Without their support, this would be a much much larger climb.

I hope you enjoy the journey as much as we are.