The University of Colorado Boulder in collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley and MIT announced that they have developed the first photonic microprocessor.
According to Milos Popovic, an assistant professor at Boulder who lead the team in the photonic processors development, the processor uses infrared light with a physical wavelength of less than 1 micron to transmit data between nodes. “This enables very dense packing of light communication ports on a chip, enabling huge total bandwidth,” said Popovic.
The microprocessor uses 850 optical input/output components and has a bandwidth density rated at 300 Gb/s per square millimeter, which is roughly 10 to 50 times greater than modern electronic processors currently available.The microprocessor also consumes significantly less power than a modern processor because the energy requirements to generate and transmit a light signal over distance is significantly lower than in an electronic processor.
“One advantage of light based communication is that multiple parallel data streams encoded on different colors of light can be sent over one and the same medium – in this case, an optical wire waveguide on a chip, or an off-chip optical fiber of the same kind as those that form the Internet backbone,” said Popović.
Although the optical components are responsible for most of the work inside of the processor, the 3 x 6 mm prototype is actually sort of a hybrid design with electric-based cache and compute cores.
The photonic processor is still in its early days of of development, but if the testing of these prototypes goes well, in a few years we could see a new wave of devices ranging from IoT devices to supercomputers powered by them.