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Researchers of CU-Boulder, MIT and UC Berkeley have successfully built a photonic microchip that uses light to transmit data. It has a bandwidth of 300 gigabits across a minute 3x6mm area and is the first of its kind. It may revolutionize data transmission forever. (via University of Colorado Boulder)


While Intel’s new computer processing chips have gained a reputation for packing unprecedented power and speed, researchers at The University of Colorado Boulder are reinventing how we execute data transmission. In collaboration with researchers from MIT and UC Berkeley, the team has successfully transmitted data using light instead of electricity.

 

Relying on light for data transmission is genius. The technology can send information over a larger distance using the same amount of energy electrical units take, which means standard microchips will require even less energy than they already do. With this, photonic technology has another significant advantage – multiple streams of data can be transmitted at once across different electromagnetic spectrums, i.e., colors of light, on the same fibers currently used to transmit data electronically. Basing microchip technology on photons, while recycling existing hardware, will thus revolutionize data transmission, by transmitting data faster and more energy-efficiently than any technology currently available.

 

The technology is based on infrared light, with a wavelength one-hundredth the thickness of a human hair, and shorter than one micron, Miloš Popović, an assistant professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering, co-corresponded the study, told reporters at CU-Boulder. One a single microchip, the researchers successfully developed a functional photonic chip with a bandwidth density of 300 gigabits per second per square millimeter. This is up to 50 times greater bandwidth than anything currently available on the market.

 

The researchers successfully built a functional photonic microchip that mimics electricity-only design. The chip is 3 by 6mm and utilizes the same electronic circuitry of existing models. Its light-based transmission technology, however, allows it to have 850 optical I/O components, and the design can be mass-produced by existing manufacturing processes fairly smoothly. It is the only chip of its kind – the only processor in the world to transmit data using light.

 

The researchers are confident in the technology’s contribution to modern computing. Mark Wade, a CU-Boulder PhD candidate and co-lead author of the study, said the design solves the computing communication bottleneck of electric-only systems, while remaining streamline enough to be mass-produced. The research team has plans to sell the technology, and a start-up was created to do just that. Ayar Labs (formerly ObtiBit) will continue to operate independently, specializing in high-volume data transmission using energy-efficient technology. The start up also won the MIT Clean Energy Prize just last year.

 

We live in the age of information. With current computing speeds already nearing the physical limitations of electricity-based technology, our societal advancements are limited by our computing speed. According to John E. Howland of Trinity University, meteorologists are limited by slower computing speeds. Faster processing will have a direct impact on the natural sciences, and our ability to understand the world around us. Beyond faster gaming and data retrieval than we ever thought possible, artificial intelligence and science will advance beyond our wildest imaginations when faster processing speeds are possible. And now they are.

 

According to study researchers, manufacturers have begun streamlining processes to mass-produce photonic technology. It won’t be long before we see the direct benefits of what a limitless society can accomplish together. Rajeev Ram, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, led the research team. The details of the study were published in the journal Nature.


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