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In recent years, as noted by the publication Harnessing Light, discussion about the role of optical science and engineering in the twenty-first century has clearly gained momentum. It is a common understanding in the optics community that optical technologies offer fascinating potential for contributing to future developments in all fields of science and technology. Optics is understood as an enabling technology for new services and products. What does that mean for optical engineering? Current trends in optical engineering are summarized in Fig. 21.1. Optical engineering undergoes a generalization of the subject and its methods. All strategies, concepts, and methods that allow us to analyze and design optical systems, which perform some desired optical function, are a part of optical engineering. Nowadays this field is still dominated by the analysis and design of imaging systems. As a consequence, merit functions, i.e., measures of optical functionality, and quality criteria discussed in most textbooks on optical engineering evaluate the capability of a system to transform a given light distribution in the object space into a conjugate distribution in the image space with as few aberrations as possible. Moreover, ray optics is the established simulation method. However, new innovative optical systems are currently being developed that are rapidly becoming the basis for future optical technology. These systems must perform light transformations that require other and much more flexible merit functions, quality criteria, and simulation procedures in the design process.
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