Researchers have discovered a way to build a sophisticated photonics integrated circuit that interconnects optical data highways

By revolutionizing the connectivity of today’s optical chips and replacing bulky 3D optics with a thin wafer of silicon, a study led by Monash and RMIT universities and a University of Adelaide specialist has discovered a way to build an integrated circuit sophisticated photonics that interconnects between highways of data.

World’s first self-calibrating photonic chip. Image Credit: Monash University/RMIT

This innovation, which was reported in the prestigious journal Nature Photonicshas the potential to accelerate the development of artificial intelligence globally and provides valuable real-world applications such as:

  • Smaller switches to reconfigure the optical networks that carry the Internet to get data to where it’s needed faster.
  • Make natural language processing even faster for apps like Google Homes, Alexa, and Siri.
  • Enable AI to analyze medical conditions faster
  • Safer driverless cars that can quickly understand their surroundings

The study of light, or photonics, is changing the way humans live, from turning on televisions to maintaining the position of satellites. The processing power of large, bench-sized utilities can be transferred to tiny photonic chips.

Dr Andy Boes developed the research as part of an Australian Research Council Joint Discovery Project.

Dr Boes conducted this research at RMIT and apparently took place at the University of Adelaide, Professor Arthur Lowery from the Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering at Monash University, and Dr Mike Xu, who is now at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications. .

Professor Arnan Mitchell and Dr Guanghui Ren planned the chip to be ready for demonstration of the experiment.

The project’s principal investigator, Professor Arthur Lowery, ARC Laureate Scholar from Monash University, says this development builds on Dr. Bill Corcoran’s earlier discovery of an optical micro-comb chip that can transmit three times more traffic than all of NBN through a single optical fiber and is thought to be the fastest broadband speed worldwide from a single fingernail-sized chip.

The optical microcomb chip has constructed the various lanes of the highway, and the self-calibrating chip has now constructed the on and off ramps and the bridges that connect them and facilitate faster data flow.

We have demonstrated a self-calibrating programmable photonic filter chip, including a signal processing core and an integrated reference path for self-calibration.

Arthur Lowery, Study Principal Investigator, ARC Laureate Associate Professor, Monash University

Self-calibration is important because it makes tunable photonic ICs useful in the real world; applications include optical communication systems that switch signals to destinations based on their color, very fast similarity calculations (correlators), scientific instrumentation for chemical or biological analysis, and even astronomy.”

Electronics have seen similar improvements in the stability of radio filters using digital techniques, which has allowed many mobiles to share the same piece of spectrum: our optical chips have similar architectures, but can operate on signals with terahertz bandwidths.,” he adds.

This invention took three years to develop.

Dr Andy Boes is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) at the University of Adelaide.

As we integrate more and more bench-sized equipment on fingernail-sized chips, it becomes more and more difficult to make them work together to achieve the speed and the function they had when they were bigger..

Dr Andy Boes, Senior Lecturer, School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Adelaide

We met this challenge by creating a chip that was smart enough to calibrate itself so that all components could act at the speed they needed in unison.added Dr. Boes.

The next Internet-dependent technology will require even faster and greater bandwidth, including self-driving cars, remote-controlled mines and medical equipment.

To increase bandwidth, it is not only necessary to upgrade the optical fibers that carry our Internet, it is also necessary to install small switches with a variety of colors and orientations so that data can be transferred simultaneously through many channels.

This research is a major breakthrough: our photonics technology is now advanced enough that truly complex systems can be integrated on a single chip..

Arnan Mitchell, Professor, InPAC

The idea that a device can have an on-chip reference system that allows all of its components to function as one is a technological breakthrough that will allow us to solve Internet bottlenecks by rapidly reconfiguring optical networks. that carry our internet to get data where it’s needed most,” he says.

In addition to being able to modify and direct optical information pathways, photonic circuits also include some computational capabilities, such as the ability to search for patterns. Many applications, including search algorithms, driverless vehicles, internet security, threat detection, and medical diagnostics, depend on pattern finding.

New research can be encoded into the chips with speed and precision, thanks to fast and reliable reprogramming. Self-calibration solves this problem. However, this manufacture must be accurate to the degree of a very small wavelength of light (nanometers), which is now difficult and very expensive.

Integrating all the optical functionalities on a device that could be “plugged” into the current infrastructure was a major challenge for the research.

Our solution is to calibrate the chips after manufacture, to develop them using an on-chip reference, rather than using external equipmentsays Professor Lowery, ARC Laureate Scholar.

We use the beauty of causality, effect following cause, which dictates that optical delays of paths through the chip can only be inferred from intensity as a function of wavelength, which is much easier to measure than precise time delays. We added a strong reference path to our chip and calibrated it. This gives us all the parameters required to “dial in” and the desired switching function or spectral response,” he adds.

To make photonic chips practically viable, the approach is a crucial step. Scientists were able to tune the chip in a single step, allowing fast and reliable switching of data streams from one destination to another, instead of searching for a tuning similar to the tuning of an old radio.

The group also studied optical correlators, which can almost instantly discover data patterns in data streams, such as photographs, and which are made possible by the reliable tuning of photonic circuits.

Professor Nelson Tansu heads the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide.

The work of the multi-university team on this photonic integrated circuit demonstrates that this technology is becoming more readily available to push the limits of performance at the system level in the various fields where this technology is used.,” he said.

Advances in photonic integrated circuits are driven by advances in semiconductors, quantum materials, device manufacturing, and integration technology.”

These are critical areas of research at the University of Adelaide and of great importance to building sovereign capability in semiconductor manufacturing in Australia.,” he added.

Journal reference:

Xu, X., et al. (2022) Self-calibrating programmable photonic integrated circuits. Nature Photonics.


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