Skip to main content

Shining a Light on the Industrial Revolution: The Democratization of Photonics

Traditionally confined to the realms of research labs and specialized industries, the democratization of photonic technologies is on track to drastically revolutionize the efficiency, sustainability, and productivity of industries across the board. Over the last decade, photonics has emerged as a versatile tool and game-changer across multiple sectors. At the forefront of this transformative wave are the mining, agritech, and material sorting sectors.

From the precise mapping of mines and optimizing agriculture to shifting material sorting processes, the impact of photonic technologies is reshaping the way these industries operate.

Streamlining Mining Operations

The use of hyperspectral technologies in the mining industry has brought forth a range of advanced tools and techniques that are slowly becoming pivotal to the industry. Hyperspectral-based sensors enable accurate mapping, surveying, and monitoring of mines, providing valuable insights into geological formations, ore quality, essentially optimizing exploration efforts and minimizing extraction costs. The democratization of this technology in the mining industry holds immense promise for improving resource management, reducing environmental impact, and enhancing worker safety, ultimately driving a more sustainable and efficient approach to mining practices.

An example of this shift can be seen with the startup High Tide and their Labrador West Iron Project: High Tide Resources Employs Hyperspectral Scan Technology on Labrador West Iron Project Drill Core.

Optimising Material Sorting

Lower costs and easier use have paved the way for innovative solutions in material identification, sorting, and recycling processes. Infrared and hyperspectral based sensors offer unmatched capabilities for precise identification and characterization of materials based on their unique spectral signatures. This enables highly efficient sorting of various materials, including plastics, metals, glass, and textiles, which in turn, optimizes recycling processes, minimizes waste, and increases resource recovery in recycling and waste management facilities. Photonic technologies also play a crucial role in enhancing the speed and accuracy of automated sorting systems, improving overall operational efficiency, while also contributing to a more sustainable economy.

Recently, MIT Lincoln Laboratory and the University of Michigan developed a new way to label fabrics visible under infrared lighting: Fiber “barcodes” can make clothing labels that last.

Transforming Agricultural & Agrifood Processes

New solutions for optimizing agricultural practices, enhancing crop yields, and promoting sustainable farming methods have also been made readily available. These photonic-based sensors and imaging systems enable precise monitoring of crops, soil conditions, and plant health, allowing farmers to make data-driven decisions in real-time. Farmers can identify nutrient deficiencies, detect diseases, and optimize irrigation and fertilizer application. In food processing and quality control, sensors are employed to assess key parameters like ripeness, freshness, and contamination, ensuring optimal food quality and safety. This targeted approach means improved resource management, reduced waste, and increased productivity. The integration of photonics into the agriculture and agrifood industries represent an immense potential to revolutionize farming practices and ensuring sustainable food production for a growing global population.

The Agro Food Robotics program, the Greenhouse Horticulture and Flower Bulbs Business Unit of Wageningen University & Research are actively committed to the development of such sensors: The Wageningen University, based in the Netherlands, is currently using photonics to detect diseases in crops more quickly and more accurately.

Combining the Potential of Photonics with the Power of AI

The increased applications of photonic technologies are driving a remarkable shift in the efficiency of inspection processes by significantly increasing the information, speed, and precision of available data. The capture of rich and detailed information allows for a more comprehensive analysis and assessment.

The true transformative potential of these industries, however, lies in the synergy between data obtained from hyperspectral system and AI algorithms. By collaborating with AI, the vast amounts of data collected can be analyzed, interpreted, and utilized to make extremely calculated decisions. Machine learning algorithms can identify patterns, predict material properties, and optimize processes, leading to increased productivity, reduced costs, and enhanced sustainability.

By harnessing the data obtained from photonics and combining it with artificial intelligence, these industries are essentially paving the way for unprecedented efficiency, accuracy, sustainability, quality control and so much more.

In pictures