Optical & Radio Frequency Metamaterials

In ‘Optical and RF Metamaterials Markets 2024-2034: Technology, Market, and Forecasts,’ IDTechEx comprehensively examines the emerging technology of electromagnetic metamaterials. Drawing from interviews with companies across the value chain and IDTechEx’s existing research on optical, telecommunication, and emerging materials, the report evaluates the market for optical and radio-frequency (RF) metamaterials in various applications. It analyzes each application’s requirements and includes case studies of existing players.
The report identifies Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (RIS) in telecommunications and metalenses in smartphones cameras as significant opportunities. Through detailed segmentation, it presents a comprehensive overview of the status and market potential for each application. The forecast predicts the overall market to reach USD 14.9B by 2034, driven by improved biometric sensing in smartphones via metalenses and increasing 5G mmWave rollout growing adoption of RIS.
IDTechEx’s 10-year forecasts break down the EM metamaterials space into the following important market verticals, with many further being discussed in the report. Source IDTechEx
Market for RF (Radio-frequency) metamaterials
RF metamaterials find applications across multiple sectors including telecommunications, automotive, aerospace, and security. They can be utilized in Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (RIS) to reflect, steer, and shield electromagnetic radiation, compensating for the reduced range associated with higher frequency signals. Additionally, in radar beamforming, RF metamaterials enable active steering of EM radiation to enhance angular resolution. This could be particularly beneficial for automotive radar systems. RF metamaterials can also be used for effective EMI shielding, enhancing security by preventing signal leakage, and can be frequency selective to create transparent shields. RF metamaterials also hold potential for medical sensing applications such as MRI scans and non-invasive glucose monitoring.
According to IDTechEx’s forecast, the largest market for RF metamaterials is forecasted to be in Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (RIS) for 5G mmWave and future 6G communications. Both 5G mmWave and 6G offer significant advantages, including the potential for leveraging expansive bandwidth to support peak data flow ranging from gigabits to terabits per second and maintaining ultra-low latency.
However, utilizing high-frequency spectra presents challenges such as very short signal propagation range (cm range for above 100 GHz frequency) and line-of-sight obstacles. Addressing signal decay and establishing strong communication over reasonable distances is a priority for both technologies, especially in busy urban areas where consistent connectivity despite barriers is crucial.
Establishing numerous base stations is not cost-effective to provide adequate coverage for high-frequency spectra like 5G mmWave and 6G. In contrast, metamaterial RIS can reflect and direct signals to end users, increasing signal range and strength while consuming low energy. Additionally, integrating metamaterial-based coatings with windows can improve signal coverage by reflecting beams around obstacles in urban areas. These solutions provide wide area coverage and offer vast opportunities for materials integration.
Market for optical metamaterials
Relatively simple optical metamaterials based on biomimicry of moth eye structures have a relatively long history of use as antireflective (AR) coatings in high-end camera lenses. However, metalenses fabricated using semiconductor industry processes are expected to have a huge impact, initially driven by their ability to improve the performance of computer vision systems.
In 2022, metalenses designed by fabless player Metalenz saw commercialization in time-of-flight (ToF) sensors from STMicro, marking the first commercial use of this technology. Here, metalenses improved light gathering performance in a smaller package than the optics they replaced. The biggest value in metalenses comes in their ability to add additional optical functionality, such as allowing for polarization imaging in a very compact package. This has a huge potential application in facial biometrics for smartphones and could bring facial recognition to smartphones outside of Apple’s range in the near future, with Metalenz announcing sensor modules designed for this application in late 2023.
Metalenses based on liquid crystals are expected to have a significant impact on VR headsets, where they could be used to solve the vergence-accommodation conflict and help these devices pass the “visual Turing test”. Furthermore, active optical metasurfaces could contribute to making LiDAR more compact and broadening the markets where these sensors could be used.
The biggest limiting factor for metalenses is broad spectrum performance, but significant innovation in the design of the metasurfaces themselves and software compensation is expected to make them a more compact and lower-cost replacement for lenses in smartphone cameras within the next ten years. Ultimately, metalenses have the potential to disrupt many corners of the optics industry in the near future.
Source: idtechex.com