Total markets for terahertz systems are likely to surpass $1 B per year by the end of the decade, thanks to the availability of robust, relatively inexpensive terahertz systems that are capable of addressing the most high profile applications such as security, medical imaging and process control.

A new Thintri study shows that significant markets are within striking distance of today’s terahertz technologies. Technologies poised to enter commercialization within a few years offer the potential to dramatically improve performance and further open markets. Today, while technical development is necessary, the greatest need is market and application development, and customer education.

While some capabilities of terahertz radiation can also be performed by other modalities, such as using millimeter waves for airport screening, terahertz technology offers truly unique capabilities. For example, a terahertz system could provide an image of an airline passenger, penetrating clothing to detect weapons or other contraband, and simultaneously perform a spectroscopic analysis that could detect explosives, drugs or other materials. Unopened mail could be read and simultaneously inspected for dangerous materials. Substances can be detected by terahertz technology in parts per trillion levels.

Commercial terahertz systems are already available and in use, to perform tasks that include measuring the moisture content of packaged cigarettes and inspecting pharmaceuticals. As more terahertz technology enters the commercial arena, early market growth will be in security and process control. Later, medical applications will grow, as systems now undergoing clinical trials are approved for wider use. Some individual sectors such as security, medicine and manufacturing could approach half-billion dollar markets by 2020.