In a breakthrough that could help usher in a new generation of super-fast light-based computers, engineers in Australia have succeeded in storing light-based information as sound waves on a computer chip.
Light-based computing, which encodes data in photons rather than electrons, is a major area of research for companies such as IBM and Intel that has potentially huge advantages over existing electronic processes including increased bandwidth, faster data speeds and none of the waste heat associated with electronic resistance.
The big challenge presented by photonic data is that it’s too fast for existing computer chips to read. Current technology relies on electronics to convert photons from high-speed optical fibre connections into electrons, which it can process, but this generates heat. This waste heat is a limiting factor on the development of ever more powerful computers and telecommunication systems
Now, in a claimed world-first, researchers from the University of Sydney’s Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) have demonstrated technology that’s able to convert optical data into soundwaves and then back into optical data again.
Project supervisor Dr Birgit Stiller describes the technology as being like an “acoustic buffer” which slows down the optical data to a velocity five orders of magnitude slower, allows for the data to be briefly stored and managed inside the chip for processing, retrieval and further transmission as light waves.
“Our system is not limited to a narrow bandwidth,” said Stiller. “So unlike previous systems, this allows us to store and retrieve information at multiple wavelengths simultaneously, vastly increasing the efficiency of the device.”
The chip was fabricated at the Australian National University’s Laser Physics Centre, also part of the CUDOS Centre of Excellence. The group says that the chips are being developed for use in telecommunications, optical fibre networks and cloud computing data centres where traditional electronic devices are susceptible to electromagnetic interference, produce too much heat or use too much energy.
CUDOS director, and co-author of a paper on the research published in Nature Communications, Professor Benjamin Eggleton, said: “This is an important step forward in the field of optical information processing as this concept fulfils all requirements for current and future generation optical communication systems.”