University of Central Florida researchers, along with colleagues from the University of Texas El Paso, have developed a new method of controlling light which could further the development of the next generation of computers.
A honeycomb-like structure is utilized to direct beams of light around turns tighter than ever before possible using traditional devices. The beam is still intact, retaining its original brightness, after being redirected, researchers report.
"Computer chips and circuit boards have metal wire connections within them that transport data signals. One of challenges when using light is figuring out a way to make tight bends so we can replace the metal wiring more effectively," Raymond Rumpf from the University of Texas El Paso said.
Using light beams, data could be transmitted along circuit boards thousands of times faster than is possible using electrical signals. However, energy losses have presented a significant challenge to developing the futuristic technology. Optical fibers are the current technology used to transmit light beams, but these channels are only capable of gradual bends, meaning they cannot transmit signals through right-angle turns.
"Direct laser writing has the potential to become a flexible means for manufacturing next-generation computer devices," Stephen Kuebler of the University of Central Florida said.
The new miniature lattices were created using a process known as direct laser writing, similar to 3D printing on a nanoscale level.
Current computer chip technology is facing a bottleneck in processing speeds, and many researchers are exploring light as a means of overcoming this hurdle. Consumer products, including smartphones, tablets and other devices could significantly benefit from the development of light-based microprocessors. Development of this technology could make personal electronics faster and more powerful as well as smaller. Before the optical devices are employed in personal electronics, the technology will likely be utilized in supercomputers.
Investigators are currently developing the device, in order to design a lattice capable of bending light around turns even tighter than is possible using this new mechanism.
Current processors use tiny wires constructed with nanoscale lithographic techniques to carry electrons throughout the circuit board or processor. Despite their tiny size, these wires are so much larger than electrons that they have been compared to a human-sized subway for cockroaches. Light-based systems would not require the use of these relatively-large wires, allowing manufacturers to place many more channels on a single chip than is possible with current technology. Such devices may be developed in as little as a decade, some observers forecast.
Development of the new device was profiled in the journal Optics Express.