Photonic Integrated Circuits: The Future of Computing

Photonic Integrated Circuits

We generate about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. This rate of data creation will increase as the IoT (Internet of Things) gains popularity. In 2020, there will be about 44 zettabytes of data worldwide. By 2025, there will probably be 175 zettabytes of data, considering how much data is produced every day. With such massive amounts of data on the horizon, we need to embrace new and improved forms of data transmission to accommodate. One of the most promising methods – has only recently come into the limelight as a viable option for mass data transmission – comes in the form of photonic integrated circuits, because nothing is faster than the speed of light.

Photonic Integrated Circuits in a Nutshell

A photonic integrated circuit (PIC) is a chip that contains photonic components, which are components that work with light; an integrated circuit is a chip that contains electronic components that form a functional circuit, such as those embedded inside your smartphone, computer, and other electronic devices (photons).

In an electronic chip, electron flux travels through resistors, inductors, transistors, and capacitors; in a photonic chip, photons travel through optical components like polarizers, phase shifters, and waveguides, which are analogous to resistors or electrical wires.

How Do Photonic Integrated Circuits Work?

Similar to turning on a switch to inject energy to operate electronic components, photonic integrated circuits use a laser source to inject light that drives the components. Integrated photonic technology, also known as “more than Moore,” is a technology that overcomes the limitations of electronics such as integration and heat generation by using light instead of electricity. This technology advances devices to the next level, enabling faster and larger data transmission rates. PICs have benefits including downsizing, increased speed, reduced heat effects, vast capacity for integration, and compatibility with current processing flows that enable high yield, mass production, and cheaper costs. The topic of integrated photonics has a wide range of uses, including data transmission, sensing, the automobile sector, and astronomy.

It is possible that photonics chips are the next big thing in communications and electronics for their sustainability and efficiency.

Advantages of Using Photonic Integrated Circuits

  • lower energy consumption
  • less heat emission
  • no need for a cooling system or special shielding
  • Increased processing speeds.
  • Can be integrated with traditional electronic chips.

What Industries and Applications Would PICs be Good For?

Data communications is one of the major application areas for photonic integrated circuits, followed by sensing (for applications in agriculture and autonomous driving, for instance), biomedical applications, including lab-on-a-chip devices, as well as applications in the defense and aerospace industries, as well as the field of astronomy. As engineers tackle new technical problems, integrated photonics may prove useful and feasibility studies can decide whether it holds the potential of a solution. As a result, PICs continue to advance and find new uses. Design firms, PIC consortia, and even several institutions around the world offer their services for such research.

What Purpose Does it Serve to Create PICs Right Now?

PICs have the potential to replace electronic integrated circuits as the preferred technology for data communications (inter- and intra-datacenter communications), LiDAR solutions for autonomous driving, sensing for aerospace and aeronautics, and countless other applications in a new technological era.

Closing Thoughts

Today, optical fiber technology dominates long distance communication. Scaling this technology down to the level of the microchip, we can only imagine the potential computing power that each of us will one day hold at our fingertips. Computers of the future might not be using silicon circuits after all, but light beams.

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