New technology for low-energy photonic computerchips

(04-09-2018) Researchers from the Department of Electronics and Information Systems and the Department of Information Technology at Ghent University have taken a big step in the development of photonic chips.

For the first time, the Ghent engineers combined lead zirconate titanate with photonic chips, creating a breakthrough technology that allows data centers to use less energy

New material with a big impact

Photonic computer chips use light (photons) instead of electricity (electrons) and are on a advancing worldwide. They are already being used on a large scale to send computer data through optical glass fibers at increasingly higher speeds, with ever​lower energy consumption. Thanks to the use of lead zirconate titanate in the chips, it is possible to switch a light beam on or off at a very high speed, to change the speed of light on the chip or to direct light beams without moving parts. As a result, optical links in data centers can be made more energy-efficient, and in the long term even computer processors can be developed calculating much faster than their electronic counterparts.

 

Guiding self-driving cars

This technology can, among other things, greatly improve the LiDAR systems of self-driving cars. A LiDAR is a type of optical RADAR that maps the environment through the recording of the reflection of light pulses emitted in different directions. By sending these light pulses much faster, more information is gathered and self-driving cars can register even more of the environment.
 
Other applications
Also sensors can be made much smaller and more accurate with this technology, which is important for "laboratory-on-a-chip" systems in medical diagnostics. It can still improve atomic clocks, which are already extremely accurate today.
 
This research was funded by the Industrial Research Fund of Ghent University. This technique has meanwhile been patented and the researchers are collaborating with some important companies toward commercialization. The findings were published this week in Nature Communications: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-05846-6.
More information: Jeroen Beeckman