One of the interesting technologies being developed and sold behind the scenes is Corning’s HPFS (High Purity Fused Silica). This glass-based product uses FABs, much like semiconductor vendors do for their offerings, which not only allows for smaller and lighter products, but lenses with far higher optical purity. Most commonly seen today in the sensors like the ones on the iPhone X, which allow accurate biometric image capture (assuming adequate processing power), this technology is poised to revolutionize a variety of other industries including security; defense; autonomous flying and driving vehicles; real-time medical scanners; and an increasingly intelligent flood of domestic, military and industrial robots.
Let’s talk optics this week.
High Purity Fused Silica
What made this briefing interesting was that this was the first time I’d heard of a glass process that takes place in a FAB. One of the issues FAB companies have is keeping the plants at capacity, but generally glass processes are too dirty for a FAB and, up until recently, building glass products in wafers didn’t make that much sense. But, as we’ve moved to ever smaller image capture sensors and turned our smartphones into cameras, the need for small, very high quality lenses has increased almost exponentially.
Arguably, the smaller and higher resolution in the sensor, the more critical the need for a very high-quality lens. Some of the early very high-quality camera sensors were overwhelmed by the relatively low quality in the related lens and finding a way to solve that has, apparently, been a high priority for Corning. Thus, it found a use for a technology first developed in the 1930s and used for things like space shuttle windows could again become relevant and it is enabling many industries.
HPFS Industry Benefits
In the briefing, Corning suggested many key areas where this relatively unknown technology is making, or will make, a huge impact. Here are just a few:
Smartphones: As the iPhone X has demonstrated, we are moving to using facial recognition over fingerprints. To maintain high accuracy, you need to be able to do a 3D scan with very high resolution while keeping the camera component, lens and sensor, small, light, and relatively inexpensive. This has been the early target of HPFS because it can deliver on all those attributes. Expect similar biometrics to show up at airports (TSA is looking at this technology), for cars and home locks, and they are increasingly used in PCs as well (Microsoft Hello). All ideal uses for HPFS.
Augmented Reality: This is where you blend rendered objects with the real world, ideally in a way that the observer can’t tell the difference. HPFS is uniquely beneficial to these efforts because it is optically pure and can refract light very elegantly. This is a bit beyond my skill set but this video explains the unique benefits. The linked video is called “A Day In The Future,” and it is an interesting image of the coming world. (I particularly want the electric chromic window.)
Mobile Security: Security at scale is mostly about cameras, whether placed in the home or on the street. However, to keep these cameras from being vandalized or keep people from dodging them, they have been getting smaller and smaller, and technologies like police body cameras have rolled out. But it does no good to have a camera if the resolution is too low to make out the perpetrator. HPFS results in small, light, high-performance cameras that can be easily deployed and secured.
Automotive: One of the big technologies enabling autonomous vehicles is ever smaller, high-resolution cameras. The AI in the car must be able to see, and see well, to drive and park for the human driver to stay disengaged. An anomaly in the glass could trigger a response by the car, which could lead to an accident or some other failure, thus the need for a high-resolution camera solution that is robust, lightweight, and with enhanced optical clarity.
Blood Sensors: One of the areas that is starting to break out is a class of sensor that can measure what is going on in your body. One of the interesting breakthroughs came out back in 2004 and this technology is finding a way to market. An initial target is for diabetics, but the technology could also monitor for other things like alcohol level and some types of catastrophic allergic or disease anti-body reaction. In the future, your entire initial diagnosis could come from a scanner with the right kind of sensor and HPFS. It is very Star Trek (think Tricorder).
Wrapping Up: HPFS Changing Industries
One of the more interesting and potentially impactful advancements in the market is HPFS, pioneered by Corning. This technology is finding its way into a variety of things I listed above and a few potential things I haven’t listed in detail like robots, drones and weapons. We’ll likely find that many of the amazing things that surround us next decade wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for HPFS, which could be one of the most impactful technologies you’ve likely never heard of. Go figure?
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+