Scientists Develop Light-Based Processor, Could Mean Big Changes in Electronics

PhotonicProcessorWhat an amazing way to end a year then begin another. After an innovative year in science and technology, there has been a scientific breakthrough in processing power. Scientists from the University of Colorado have been excited to showcase a sample of something incredible that they have been working on. Dubbed as a definite light based processor, this revolutionary microprocessor could very well be the first to use light as a form of energy for transmitting data, instead of regular electricity.

PhotonicProcessor1Perfectly put by The Register, at least a lot better than I would put it, “Chips using light to shunt data around a processor, and to and from its external memory, have been promised by Intel, IBM, and others for years now”. But it looks like good old scientists hailing from MIT, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Colorado have gathered up enough of their genius to collaboratively publish a paper in Nature on just how this super-fast optic data transmission works. The team tested the chip by having it fetch instructions, manipulate data, and store memory in something 10 meters away, all by using optics.

PhotonicProcessor2Basically, we’re looking at a low-power, light transferring chip that can be mass produced. Engadget says the design, measuring 3mm by 6mm with 70 million transistors, involves enough bandwidth to cover 850 optical input/output, 300Gbps per square millimeter, or 10 to 50 times the norm in general. While not entirely photonic, you must admit this very well beats the heck out of electric-only chips, hence, “showing the potential for dramatic improvements in computing power without having to completely reinvent the wheel”.

This is the first chip to be able to thrive on light, a process worth waiting for, as light allows data to be transferred faster than ever in the space it is given. The invention will bring great advancements to smartphone, supercomputer, large data, and wearable network chip architecture, not to mention the workload that goes with data transfer. Chen Sun, from the Berkeley Wireless Research Center says that in a regular data center, 20 to 30 percent of the power consumption goes towards shifting data between the processor, memory and networking cards. Take the photonic I/O, and you free up that 20 to 30 percent. There’s no doubt we will be hearing about this again, and we can only expect chip makers to be up in arms, either fighting the (published) scientists’ claims, or building their own competition.

Topics: Technology News Inventions & Innovations

Join the conversation!