27 September 2010


PICO project to focus on Photonic Integration for Coherent Optics

The new multi-university–industry Photonic Integration for Coherent Optics (PICO) consortium — which is to focus on basic research to develop photonic technology for communications and sensing applications — is one of four consortia that has been chosen for funding by the US Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA) out of contenders from around the USA. DARPA is providing just over $2m annually, with the university and industry partners providing about the same amount.

The consortium is led by University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) and also includes researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), the University of Virginia, Lehigh University, and 17 industry partners including HP, Intel, Corning, Teledyne, Rockwell-Collins, Infinera and JDSU.

UCSB is working to develop photonic integrated circuits (PICs), which can pack many components onto a single chip, and are intended to be the basis of powerful new optical communications and computing systems. PICO aims to build on that effort by designing and fabricating a new generation of PICs that operate on both the amplitude and phase of lightwaves.

UCSB says that such photonics devices promise to revolutionize computing and communications, enabling much greater quantities of data to be transmitted over long-distance networks and would improve the efficiency and density of shorter links in data centers or within computers.

“These coherent PICs will provide a huge increase in the amount of information that can be transmitted from or received by a single chip as well as a tremendous reduction in the size, weight, and power required by the chips,” says Larry Coldren, acting dean of engineering & professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Materials at UCSB, who will serve as director of PICO. UCSB professors John Bowers and Mark Rodwell and research engineer Leif Johansson are also part of the center.

PICO intends to produce several generic coherent PICs with many potential applications. The chips should be able to handle massive amounts of data (transmitting dozens of feature films in a second) and could also form the basis of detection systems sensitive enough to read the date on a dime from a mile away, says Coldren.

The chips to be developed by PICO will draw on both monolithic indium phosphide and silicon CMOS technology.

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