Optical metamaterials will be in our pockets, kitchens, cars, and offices in the next three to five years. Experts in the field predict this. Because of increased technological maturity and lower production costs, doors to some profitable new markets for materials are opening.
Optical metamaterials interact with photons using chemical compositions or surface properties smaller than specific light wavelengths. Metamaterials have already made commercial breakthroughs, from damage-resistant antireflective optics to tunable flat lenses. Smartphones, cameras, automobiles, and gaming consoles are all incorporated them. The most imminent consumer applications are depth sensing in mobile devices, driverless cars, and augmented and virtual reality headsets.
Metamaterial science combines materials informatics, engineering, materials science, and physics. Although microwave metamaterials have enabled wireless technology for over a decade, the optical arena is more difficult but potentially more lucrative for those who can overcome the technology’s early challenges.
One difficulty in converting an optical material to a metamaterial is intricately patterning its surface with nanostructures, which then locally manipulate light propagation. Nanoscale patterning on a large scale appears to be a possibility only now.
Until now, optical metamaterials have been hampered by a lack of manufacturing infrastructure and a scarcity of device designers familiar with the technology. However, an increasing number of startups and large corporations are interested in using digital patterning for faster product design.
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