The Optical Fibre Communications Conference (OFC) has revealed details of a new approach to chip-to-chip communications based on silicon photonics.
The paper explains how to develop a modulator and a tuneable filter created using IBM’s CMOS process that the paper’s presenters believe could make inter-chip communications ten times more energy efficient.
The paper with the catchy title “Energy-efficient active photonics in a zero-change, state-of-the-art CMOS process,” has been penned by researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); and the University of California, Berkeley. It is part of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Photonically Optimized Embedded Microprocessors (POEM) project.
While research into optical means of chip-to-chip communications isn’t new, most of these efforts have focused on using conventional optical materials or specialised processes that result in either bulky packages or difficulty in commercialisation. But the paper suggests that using CMOS processes would overcome both drawbacks.
One of the report’s authors, Mark Wade of the University of Colorado, Boulder said that as far as he knew, the team was one of the first to get silicon photonics natively integrated into an advanced CMOS process and to achieve energy efficiencies that are competitive with electronics.
Wade said that the system was the first step for silicon photonics to take over some areas of technology where electronics has really dominated and to start building complex electronic/photonic systems that require dense integration.