Our computer processors could soon use light to transmit data instead of electricity.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, along with a number of other universities, have developed what they say is the world's first fully-working processor to use light to transmit data.
Not only that, but the processor makes electric chips look a little outdated, as they are able to process 300 Gbps per square millimeter. That's between 10 and 50 times what would be seen on a standard processor.
The researchers were able to pack two processor cores with 70 million transistors as well as 850 photonic components, or parts that send and receive light, all onto a 3-by-6-millimeter chip.
"This is a milestone. It's the first processor that can use light to communicate with the external world," said Vladimir Stojanović, associate professor of electrical engineering at UC Berkeley, in a statement. "No other processor has the photonic I/O in the chip."
One of the big advantages that light-based chips have over electric ones is that they can send multiple data streams using different colors of light over the same medium — an optical wire on a chip. Not only that, but they also use infrared light, which has a physical wavelength of less than one micron, or around 100th the width of a human hair, meaning that components can be packed extremely densely onto a chip. Last but not least is the fact that these processors use much less electricity, meaning that they can be used in data centers to make them more green.
The processor itself is far better than most electric processors on the market, however, compared with the potential of the technology involved, it is a pretty lightweight chip. What this new chip does is show off the potential for a massive improvement in computer processing technology over the next few years.