Read about LIDAR, Market Predictions, Special Events, New Reports and Other Noteworthy News, Opinions & Opportunities
In this Issue:
OIDA's Predictions: How Did We Do?
We have often been asked, do you ever check your forecasts? Of course we do. We didn't forecast the pandemic, but what about our forecast before the pandemic? And after?
OIDA originally forecast that 2020 revenues for optics and photonics companies would be flat with 2019. This was a brave assessment, considering that U.S. unemployment was at a record low at the time. (Remember that?) But the January 2020 issue of the OIDA newsletter and our presentations from that time pointed out that a recession remained a significant risk. Think of it this way: unemployment rarely stays low for long. Then the pandemic came and U.S. unemployment went from record low to a record high in record time.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Dec 2020).
We refined the forecast in the April 2020 OIDA newsletter after the pandemic swept the globe, predicting a decline in revenues of about 16% in 2020, which we later reduced to a decline of 11-15%. This also seemed brave, given that the consequences of the pandemic and recession could take a number of paths. But much of that speculation suffered from recency bias; it favored the darker outlook of the moment over the longer and more objective perspective.
We forecast 8% growth in 2021 and a return to the 2019 level in 2022. That remains our forecast, until we get final Q4 results. It's reproduced below, showing how the annualized quarterly values average to the final annual value.
Source: OIDA (2020).
What about the two companies we followed this year, Foxconn and Largan Precision? The first figures shows the monthly revenues of the consumer product lens maker Largan Precision, normalized to October of the previous year. It recovered well in March, but slumped and has had a weak recovery since then. Its revenues dropped over 20% from October 2019 to October 2020, the worst performance in recent years.
Source: OIDA (2020), from company statements.
The next figure shows the monthly revenues for the manufacturing giant Foxconn. Revenues for October 2019 to October 2020 came out even, as well or better than recent years, except 2018.
Source: OIDA (2020), from company statements.
Several of our other predictions from April seem spot on now, none of them were outright wrong, while some remain too early to tell. Take a look at the original article and subsequent issues of the OIDA newsletter.
We said that supply will be affected first, then demand. Supply chain problems continue to arise, but the major concern now is future demand. Demand for optics and photonics across most sectors is holding up. Demand for many machine tools, such as for the automotive industry, is soft. Others, such as agricultural equipment and semiconductor fabrication tools, have fared better. And there is less concern is that the world could spiral back into a deeper recession. But much depends on government actions to remedy the economy.
Outcomes for millions of individuals have been extremely tragic. But our industry has not only avoided the worst imaginable scenarios, it is faring better than many, particularly those in the hospitality and travel industries.
Most of the list of hot topics from the January newsletter remain valid too. It's tempting to think that it is because the world was in a state of partial or full lockdown for most of the year, pausing technology advancement for the time being. Certainly lockdown delayed the commercialization of new technologies. But it's more likely that the technology is not greatly delayed. If there is a delay, it should be most apparent in consumer products, where the pace of change is most rapid. We can look to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to monitor new technologies. Instead of Las Vegas, it will be online this year, on 11-14 January. Will we see if there are fewer technologies going to market this year.
We have a lot to look forward to in 2021. Expect single-digit growth, but stay tuned for an update soon.
Source: Cartoon Collections
LIDAR Passed a Milestone in 2020
OIDA explored LIDAR and autonomous vehicles in events in 2018 and 2019 (and here and here) as the excitement over driverless cars heated up. Alphabet/Google (through its Waymo subsidiary) generated much of the excitement, along with Uber, major auto companies, and over 90 LIDAR suppliers. There was even a lawsuit brought by Google against Uber over theft of its LIDAR technology, culminating in a sentence to an 18-month term in jail.
Autonomous vehicles are not new. Think of drones or UAVs—unmanned aerial vehicles—or any number of robots and vehicles in the air, water, or on land. However, the most attention is on so-called self-driving cars. There are five levels of autonomy, from simple cruise control to full Level 5 automation. Level 5—driverless operation—means the car can move about without a human present in the vehicle at all. While Waymo is famous for going big, leaping over automakers to fully driverless prototypes, Tesla and many others think that a "slow but steady" incremental ADAS approach will be more effective. The major automakers are hedging their bets by supporting both strategies: the incremental approach and the full driverless prototype.
Tesla's CEO Elon Musk takes it further, in his characteristically provocative way. He is famously dismissive of LIDAR, calling it "friggin' stupid" (here) and that "anyone relying on LIDAR is doomed" (here). Tesla will rely on stereo 3D camera technology and a head start on accumulating data in the field. The machine learning algorithms may need more accuracy than conventional cameras can provide, however. In any case, everyone else agrees that LIDAR is a necessary sensor to achieve autonomy Levels 4 and 5. The forecast from Yole Développement suggests a LIDAR market of US$ 3.8 billion by 2025, with US$ 1.9 billion from autonomous vehicles (both ADAS and robotic vehicles).
Source: Yole Développement (2020).
LIDAR subsystem technology needs to be ready for the notoriously demanding auto industry, however. And then systems engineering is required to integrate the subsystems and bring about "sensor fusion." Pick the technology too early, and all the systems engineering may be wasted. If you are too cautious, your competitors get to the market first.
There was talk of a shake out of the 90-some LIDAR makers as part of the natural culling process that happens with early stage technology. It doesn't matter if most of the LIDAR companies never survive; that's the risk that the founders and early investors take. Large claims were made, but we forgive them. And new companies continue to be born. MIT's Kyber Photonics may be the latest to stake its hopes on LIDAR, with an integrated photonics design (featured here).
What matters is that some companies survive the process in a healthy state to take the technology closer to field use. Velodyne LIDAR became a public company in July, in a reverse merger with Graf Industrial, trading under the symbol VLDR. Velodyne was the early market leader in LIDAR technology for self-driving cars. The company started in 1983 as a supplier of audio subwoofer technology and was inspired to try LIDAR in the DARPA Grand Challenge.
Then in early December, Luminar Technologies had an initial public offering (IPO) of stock, under the ticker symbol LAZR (see here). Luminar is working with Volvo and recently won a design win with Intel's Mobileye. The IPOs help validate LIDAR as a technology, at least in investor's eyes. Luminar's is said to have made its 25-year old founder, Austin Russell, a billionaire.
Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell. Source: Luminar, from OSA's Optics & Photonics News.
At least two other LIDAR companies recently made announcements to become publicly-traded companies. U.S. company Aeva announced on 2 November its plans to close a deal in Q1 2021 that will lead to a listing on the NYSE with the ticker symbol AEVA. On 11 December, the Israeli company Innoviz announced its plans to close a transaction also in Q1 2021 that will lead to a listing on the NASDAQ exchange, with the ticker symbol INVZ.
Meanwhile, the large tech companies appear to be tiring of driverless technology. In early December, Uber announced that it was shedding its robotaxi effort to a startup company, Aurora, to develop self-driving trucks. (The following day, Uber announced it was shedding its flying taxi project, Uber Elevate, to Joby Aviation.) Uber is losing money and robotaxis offered a way to cut labor costs, but developing driverless cars is costly and will take too long. Uber can still win if someone else brings driverless vehicles to market, but Uber would have to acquire a fleet of expensive cars and keep them maintained.
Uber Elevate eCRM-002 flying taxi.
There are also questions about the continuing commitment of Apple and even Waymo to driverless cars. The tech giants aren't short of cash, as Uber is, but they are more familiar with the fast-moving world of software and consumer products than the long design cycle and safety requirements for manufacturing cars.
So who will bring LIDAR to the mainstream market? The pandemic cut sales of new cars, further straining the resources of the traditional automakers. And, they are focusing on electric cars, with driverless cars a longer-term goal. But they continue to move forward: GM's subsidiary Cruise announced in early December that it was testing prototype robot cars in San Francisco without backup drivers (here). Startup automakers are also key for innovating in both mainstream and specialty vehicle markets. But the startups will likely need to partner with large, established firms to succeed.
It will take time. As they say, it's a marathon, not a sprint.
New Podcast Interview: 2020 OSA President Steve Fantone Describes How the Society Pivoted to the New Normal
2020 OSA President Steve Fantone reflects on a year that dramatically changed the way the global optics and photonics community stayed connected. In an interview on the podcast, When Science Speaks, Fantone described how OSA leveraged technologies enabled by optics to transform in-person events into virtual meetings, programs and exhibitions. The society expanded its portfolio of hybrid and virtual programs in real-time remote formats to better serve members and customers during the pandemic at no cost to registrants. As a result, OSA significantly increased its number of participants worldwide. Hybrid conferences with both remote and onsite activities will be the norm for OSA events in 2021, he noted. In addressing the covid-19 pandemic, Fantone said optical technologies are being utilized to detect and diagnose the virus and sterilize contaminated PPE.
Listen to the full podcast interview conducted by Mark Bayer, President of Bayer Strategic Consulting and host of the weekly podcast, When Science Speaks, here.
Welcome New OIDA Member
Now Available On-Demand: OIDA Technology Showcase Presentations
Watch our virtual presenters and see the latest technology innovations from leading OIDA member companies. Experts from 29 companies share their innovative products. Thank you to our participating companies including:
- Aerotech, Inc.
- Aliro Quantum
- CMC Microsystems
- Cristal Laser
- Delta Optical Thin Film A/S
- Diamond USA
- Double Helix Optics
- Energetiq Technology, Inc.
- Hamamatsu Corporation
- IFOS Corporation
- Inrad Optics
- LaCroix Precision Optics
- Lionix International
- Menlo Systems
- OEwaves, Inc.
- Optiwave Systems Inc.
- OptoTest Corporation
- PHIX Photonics Assembly
- Santec USA Corporation
- Schott North America
- Source Photonics
Learn more and view the presentations now.
OSA Applied Industrial Optics Now Accepting Submissions
Be part of the prestigious and comprehensive OSA Applied Industrial Optics (AIO) technical program, and ensure that your research is seen by an influential audience. Presenting at AIO provides the opportunity to showcase your work to leaders in your field, and to expand your network of professional connections.
AIO is a multidisciplinary meeting that focuses on innovative photonics research and its commercial impact – bringing together industry professionals with experience in overcoming the challenges of deploying and commercializing new products with researchers developing cutting-edge technology.
AIO hosts panel sessions and tutorials aimed at fostering dialog and new collaborations among attendees. It offers a unique atmosphere that is both informative and interactive, providing a forum for photonics leaders to meet, collaborate and innovate.
Learn more, view the topics and submit your paper by 24 March.
RSVP for Virtual OIDA Member Benefit Orientation
RSVP for OIDA's member benefit overview orientation. This is an opportunity to learn more about key membership benefits you and your company should be taking advantage of and explore how to maximize performance and grow your business.
Whether you have been an active member for years and need a quick refresh or are transitioning to the new OIDA membership model — this orientation is a must-attend! Please feel free to share this with your colleagues. When you join OIDA, everyone at your organization becomes a member.
Status Change: OSA Biophotonics Congress: Optics in the Life Sciences
The health and safety of our meetings attendees is always of primary importance, and especially so in this current environment. After assessing health and travel advisories related to COVID-19, OSA and the congress committee have decided to present this year's meeting, 12 — 16 April 2021, in an all-virtual, web conference format. Learn more.
Gain Recognition for Your Optical Engineering Team
Submissions are now being accepted for the 2021 Paul F. Forman Team Engineering Excellence Award, which recognizes team technical achievements such as product engineering, process and software development, and patent development, as well as contributions to society such as engineering education, and furthering public appreciation of optical engineering. The submission deadline is 10 April 2021. Don't miss this opportunity to gain recognition and promotion for your optical engineering team(s).
Promotion of winning teams includes:
- Special recognition in OSA's magazine, Optics and Photonics News
- A dedicated press release
- Outreach on OSA social media channels
- Recognition during Frontier’s in Optics (FiO), OSA's annual meeting
- Participation in the FiO Awards Ceremony and Reception
- Recognition in trade magazines, journals and/or conference publications
Invitation to Join the OIDA Optics and Photonics Industry LinkedIn Group
Join 3,500+ of your colleagues in our OIDA Optics & Photonics Industry Network LinkedIn Group. This one-of-a-kind Forum for Industry lets you participate in discussions about cutting-edge issues. Extend your professional network. Exchange information about problems, ideas and solutions. Collaborate with experts in your field. Now is the perfect time to build a relationship with fellow optics and photonics professionals!
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OIDA (OSA Industry Development Associates) Council
Thank you to the volunteers who oversee the programs and services available to the Industry Community.
Inrad Optics, Chair-Elect
Plymouth Grating Laboratory, Inc.
Cedric F. Lam,
Double Helix Optics
Optimax Systems, Inc.