Startup works to revolutionize optics industry

Via the Rochester Business Journal

PlanOpSim, an emerging optics company, is set to transform the optics and photonics industry by helping developers create metalenses and metasurfaces, emerging technologies that outperform traditional lenses like those used in cameras, VR goggles, microscopes, and telescopes.

Lieven Penninck
Lieven Penninck, CEO of PlanOpSim

We caught up with Lieven Penninck, PlanOpSim CEO, to understand the limitations of traditional lenses and how his company creates software and custom solutions that make design and simulation of metalenses and metasurfaces faster and easier.

The Challenge of Creating Alternatives to Traditional Lenses

The principle of lenses has remained the same since the Middle Ages — a piece of glass that has been carefully cut, ground, and polished — yet lenses have important shortcomings known as aberrations. For example, not all colors are focused the same way by the glass, the often-spherical shape of the lens causes distortions and the glass used is heavy and bulky.

Metalenses and metasurfaces are superior alternatives: thinner than a single hair, with the ability to be tailored to the color wavelengths needed for an application. They are lighter, less costly, and capable of being mass produced. They have the potential to revolutionize the optics industry by enabling high-performance and miniaturized sensors that can be used in a wide range of applications, from 3D image sensors for face biometry to autonomous vehicle obstacle detection, but large-scale development and adoption are limited by a lack of integrated design tools. According to Pennick, “What’s great about these new lenses is the fact that they can integrate into existing optical systems, so they combine the best of both worlds.”

“Photonics is complicated, even for the experts,” said Pennick. “Designing and simulating metalenses and surfaces requires highly complex tools and expertise. The tools that exist today link together in an imperfect way and are anything but user-friendly. The industry needs better tooling for the design and simulation to significantly increase the number of use cases and products, and drive industry innovation.”

PlanOpSim launches software and tools for the design of metalenses and metasurfaces

PlanOpSim was founded in 2019 by Penninck, who holds a Ph.D. in Photonics Engineering from Ghent University and has years of experience in optical modeling methods focusing on metasurfaces and nano-photonics. The company’s software provides a start-to-finish workflow for the design of metalenses and other metasurfaces, enabling highly complex designs and simulations to be transformed into fast, accurate design cycles.

Optics Studio Interface Beta Test
Optics Studio Interface Beta Test

“Our software and services, launched in 2021, address the design and simulation of metasurfaces through a multi-scale, cloud-based simulation platform that is directly accessible by optics and photonics researchers and developers around the world,” said Pennick. “Our unique capabilities eliminate dependency on complex tools and enable them to quickly and easily design and simulate large areas without sacrificing accuracy.”

Meta Component
Meta Component

PlanOpSim recently launched beta plug-ins for ray tracing software and expanded its design area to be 4000x larger than is possible with standard tools and can be directly exported to fabrication files (GDS). Looking forward, PlanOpSim will implement machine learning and AI-accelerated design methods for its full-wave solver prototype, which allows for miniaturized, simplified device design without limiting the addition of functionality and increasing the performance.

Meta Cell
Meta Cell

The company is targeting the R&D departments of photonics companies and R&D centers at universities around the world, and is looking specifically to the automotive, defense, space and aviation, consumer electronics, and telecommunications industries for application use.

PlanOpSim is one of ten companies participating in Luminate NY, an international accelerator program from NextCorps in downtown Rochester, and hopes to leverage the program’s optics expertise and rich network to further product development, expand its team, and drive revenue.

“The combination of Luminate leaders’ high energy and passion, great expertise, technical know-how, and the immensely valuable Advisory Board has been truly magical to our development,” said Pennick. “This has been a great combo, and we have the feeling we aren’t even at cruise speed yet.”

Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate, said, “PlanOpSim has experienced significant growth as industries discover the capabilities of its solutions. The company has the potential to enable groundbreaking and incremental innovation through improved or new products across multiple industries.”

For more information, visit www.planopsim.com. To watch startups in Luminate compete for $2M in follow-on funding, register for the free Luminate Finals event on September 27 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM at https://bit.ly/LumFinals2023. For updates on Luminate and all the emerging technologies being developed in Rochester, go to luminate.org.