EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Connected Electronic and Photonic Systems (CEPS)

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Electronic and Electrical Engineering


This proposal seeks funding to create a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Connected Electronic and Photonic Systems (CEPS). Photonics has moved from a niche industry to being embedded in the majority of deployed systems, ranging from sensing, biophotonics and advanced manufacturing, through communications from the chip-to-chip to transcontinental scale, to display technologies, bringing higher resolution, lower power operation and enabling new ways of human-machine interaction.

These advances have set the scene for a major change in commercialisation activity where electronics photonics and wireless converge in a wide range of information, sensing, communications, manufacturing and personal healthcare systems. Currently manufactured systems are realised by combining separately developed photonics, electronic and wireless components. This approach is labour intensive and requires many electrical interconnects as well as optical alignment on the micron scale. Devices are optimised separately and then brought together to meet systems specifications. Such an approach, although it has delivered remarkable results, not least the communications systems upon which the internet depends, limits the benefits that could come from systems-led design and the development of technologies for seamless integration of electronic photonics and wireless systems. To realise such connected systems requires researchers who have not only deep understanding of their specialist area, but also an excellent understanding across the fields of electronic photonics and wireless hardware and software.

This proposal seeks to meet this important need, building upon the uniqueness and extent of the UCL and Cambridge research, where research activities are already focussing on higher levels of electronic, photonic and wireless integration; the convergence of wireless and optical communication systems; combined quantum and classical communication systems; the application of THz and optical low-latency connections in data centres; techniques for the low-cost roll-out of optical fibre to replace the copper network; the substitution of many conventional lighting products with photonic light sources and extensive application of photonics in medical diagnostics and personalised medicine. Many of these activities will increasingly rely on more advanced systems integration, and so the proposed CDT includes experts in electronic circuits, wireless systems and software. By drawing these complementary activities together, and building upon initial work towards this goal carried out within our previously funded CDT in Integrated Photonic and Electronic Systems, it is proposed to develop an advanced training programme to equip the next generation of very high calibre doctoral students with the required technical expertise, responsible innovation (RI), commercial and business skills to enable the £90 billion annual turnover UK electronics and photonics industry to create the closely integrated systems of the future. The CEPS CDT will provide a wide range of methods for learning for research students, well beyond that conventionally available, so that they can gain the required skills. In addition to conventional lectures and seminars, for example, there will be bespoke experimental coursework activities, reading clubs, roadmapping activities, responsible innovation (RI) studies, secondments to companies and other research laboratories and business planning courses.

Connecting electronic and photonic systems is likely to expand the range of applications into which these technologies are deployed in other key sectors of the economy, such as industrial manufacturing, consumer electronics, data processing, defence, energy, engineering, security and medicine. As a result, a key feature of the CDT will be a developed awareness in its student cohorts of the breadth of opportunity available and the confidence that they can make strong impact thereon.

Planned Impact

The impact of the CDT in Connected Electronic and Photonic Systems is expected to be wide ranging and include both scientific research and industry outcomes. In terms of academia, it is envisaged that there will be a growing range of research activity in this converged field in coming years, and so the research students should not only have opportunities to continue their work as research fellows, but also to increasingly find posts as academics and indeed in policy advice and consulting.

The main area of impact, however, is expected to be industrial manufacturing and service industries. Relevant industries will include those involved in all areas of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), together with printing, consumer electronics, construction, infrastructure, defence, energy, engineering, security, medicine and indeed systems companies providing information systems, for example for the financial, retail and medical sectors. Such industries will be at the heart of the digital economy, energy, healthcare, security and manufacturing fields. These industries have huge markets, for example the global consumer electronics market is expected to reach $2.97 trillion in 2020. The photonics sector itself represents a huge enterprise. The global photonics market was $510B in 2013 and is expected to grow to $766 billion in 2020. The UK has the fifth largest manufacturing base in electronics in the world, with annual turnover of £78 billion and employing 800,000 people (TechUK 2016). The UK photonics industry is also world leading with annual turnover of over £10.5 billion, employing 70,000 people and showing sustained growth of 6% to 8% per year over the last three decades (Hansard, 25 January 2017 Col. 122WH). As well as involving large companies, such as Airbus, Leonardo and ARM, there are over 10,000 UK SMEs in the electronics and photonics manufacturing sector, according to Innovate UK. Evidence of the entrepreneurial culture that exists and the potential for benefit to the UK economy from establishing the CDT includes the founding of companies such as Smart Holograms, PervasID, Light Blue Optics, Zinwave, Eight19 and Photon Design by staff and our former PhD students. Indeed, over 20 companies have been spun out in the last 10 years from the groups proposing this CDT.

The success of these industries has depended upon the availability of highly skilled researchers to drive innovation and competitive edge. 70% of survey respondents in the Hennik Annual Manufacturing Report 2017 reported difficulty in recruiting suitably skilled workers. Contributing to meeting this acute need will be the primary impact of the CEPS CDT.

Centre research activities will contribute very strongly to research impact in the ICT area (Internet of Things (IoT), data centre interconnects, next generation access technologies, 5G+ network backhaul, converged photonic/electronic integration, quantum information processing etc), underpinning the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and Digital Economy themes and contributing strongly to the themes of Energy (low energy lighting, low energy large area photonic/electronics for e-posters and window shading, photovoltaics, energy efficient displays), Manufacturing the Future (integrated photonic and electronic circuits, smart materials processing with photonics, embedded intelligence and interconnects for Industry 4.0), Quantum Technologies (device and systems integration for quantum communications and information processing) Healthcare Technologies (optical coherence tomography, discrete and real time biosensing, personalised healthcare), Global Uncertainties and Living with Environmental Change (resilient converged communications, advanced sensing systems incorporating electronics with photonics).



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