Intel's Light Peak technology has already dabbled with optical connections, but photonics could also enable optical connections inside chips.
Intel is co-funding a research and production centre at the University of Washington, which it hopes will lead to breakthroughs in the field of silicon photonics.
The deal, which was reported this week in Chip Design Magazine
, will see Intel dip into its recent monster profits to fund the foundation of the Optoelectronics Systems Integration in Silicon (OpSIS) Centre at the University, designed as the silicon photonics equivalent of the Metal Oxide Semiconductor Implementation Service Centre at the University of Southern California.
Rather than relying on electrical connections between components, photonics instead transfers data over optical connections. Intel has already dabbled with high-speed optical data connections with its Light Peak technology, but it's hoped that photonics could enable optical connections inside mass-produced chips as well.
Michael Hochberg, assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University, stated that the University would 'like the photonics industry, 10 years from now, to function in a way that’s very similar to the electronics industry today. People building optoelectronic systems will send designs out to an inexpensive, reliable third party for manufacturing, so they can focus on being creative about the design.
Intel's chief technology officer Justin Rattner was also confident about the success of the project, claiming 'OpSIS will enhance the education of US engineering students, giving them the opportunity to learn the new optical design paradigm. The ability to produce such low-cost silicon chips that manipulate photons, instead of electrons, will lead to new inventions and new industries beyond just data communications, including low-cost sensors, new biomedical devices and ultra-fast signal processors.
Intel is far from the only company investing in optical computing and silicon photonics, though. Back in 2007, IBM announced the creation of a micro-miniaturised Mach-Zenhder electro-optic modulator
, which it hoped would lead to a revolution in optical computing technology.
Once up to speed, the OpSIS Centre looks to offer three production runs per year, each capable of making chips for 30-40 users. Meanwhile, the physical production will be left in the hands of BAE Systems.
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