University of Utah engineers have taken a step forward in creating the next generation of computers and mobile devices capable of speeds millions of times faster than current machines.
The Utah engineers have developed an ultracompact beamsplitter — the smallest on record — for dividing light waves into two separate channels of information. The device brings researchers closer to producing silicon photonic chips that compute and shuttle data with light instead of electrons.
Silicon photonics could significantly increase the power and speed of machines such as supercomputers, data center servers and the specialized computers that direct autonomous cars and drones with collision detection. Eventually, the technology could reach home computers and mobile devices and improve applications from gaming to video streaming.
At the University of Utah, researchers have developed an integrated-nanophotonics polarization beamsplitter with a footprint of 2.4 × 2.4 μm2. It is the smallest polarization beamsplitter ever demonstrated.
The researchers say they have taken a step forward to creating the next generation of super computers.
Engineering professor Rajesh Menon says this technique offers some big changes for the future.
This ultracompact beamsplitter is designed to enable networks and computers to transmit data using light instead of electrons.
These new computers would be millions of times faster than what we are using now. Instead of using electronics, researchers say the future will be light.
The key advantage of light, made of photons, is it’s the fastest thing you can use to transfer information .
Potential advantages go beyond processing speed. The Utah team’s design would be cheap to produce because it uses existing fabrication techniques for creating silicon chips. And because photonic chips shuttle photons instead of electrons, mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets built with this technology would consume less power, have longer battery life and generate less heat than existing mobile devices.
The first supercomputers using silicon photonics — already under development at companies such as Intel and IBM — will use hybrid processors that remain partly electronic. Menon believes his beamsplitter could be used in those computers in about three years. Data centers that require faster connections between computers also could implement the technology soon.
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