Millimetre wave silicon photonics for remote sensing and wireless links

The future is arriving

at the speed of light

Martijn Heck is developing a new silicon-photonics technology that can make computing significantly more efficient and replace conventional data cables with faster optical data links.

The increasing demand for wireless Internet necessitates new technology. Now researchers are challenging the art of the possible by creating new applications for extremely fast data transmission systems and networks. Along with the changes in technology development, we can expect that many more of our electronic devices will be linked to cyberspace.

It is expected that 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet in less than 10 years, many of them wirelessly. However, the present day technologies are, by far, not able to deliver this sort of capacity.

One bright solution might lie within the field of photonics which includes several great engineering tasks such as design and characterisation of optical nano-
scale components.

Silicon based optical chips
Photonics is the study of light particles, i.e. photons, and photons are already being used with great success in telecommunications where optical fiber cables transfer data at much higher speeds than copper cables could ever dream of.

“You only succeed if you can do it well. If you cannot do it well, basically you have a useless technology,” associate professor Martijn Heck says.

With this particular project Martijn Heck aims to expand the use of photonics into wireless communications. The goal is to invent silicon based optical chips that are cost-effective, high-speed and also environmentally friendly compared to the conventional technology of electronics, thus providing a technology to deal with the increasing demands of future ubiquitous Internet connections.

Silicon has dominated in microelectronics for several decades. Due to its transparency in the range of optical wavelengths, silicon can be used for optical Internet solutions with larger bandwidth, lower power consumption, smaller delay and better resistance to electromagnetic interference than conventional electronic connections. Silicon based transmission of data is carried by light and can be integrated with microelectronics.

Photonics beat electronics
Creating a working technology is of course just one of the things on Martijn Heck´s list and his collaborators at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). The photonic technology will also have to be able to compete with present technologies.

“In principle we know that we can make photonics beat electronics. But when a scientist says ‘in principle’, it means that at the moment we can’t. Hopefully, in three years, we can. What we know is that this is big. The development of new wireless network technologies is spreading rapidly. This makes it possible to include more and more embedding sensors and actuators in machines and other physical objects to a degree that will not only transform the way we communicate but also our life and the global economy,” Martijn Heck says.