What if there was an extremely advanced technology, where processors could communicate through light? Now, a team of engineers has demoed the first processor that uses light for ultrafast communications.
The University of California, Berkeley researchers have successfully married electrons and photons within a single-chip microprocessor, a landmark development that opens the door to ultrafast, low-power data crunching.
The researchers packed two processor cores with more than 70 million transistors and 850 photonic components onto a 3-by-6-millimeter chip. They fabricated the microprocessor in a foundry that mass-produces high-performance computer chips, proving that their design can be easily and quickly scaled up for commercial production.
The new chip marks the next step in the evolution of fiber optic communication technology by integrating into a microprocessor the photonic interconnects, or inputs and outputs (I/O), needed to talk to other chips.
Researcher Vladimir Stojanovic said that this is a milestone, adding “It’s the first processor that can use light to communicate with the external world. No other processor has the photonic I/O in the chip.”
Stojanovic and fellow UC Berkeley professor Krste Asanovic teamed up with Rajeev Ram at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Milos Popovic at the University of Colorado, Boulder, to develop the new microprocessor.
“This is the first time we’ve put a system together at such scale, and have it actually do something useful, like run a program,” said Asanovic, who helped develop the free and open architecture called RISC-V (reduced instruction set computer), used by the processor.
Further down the road, this research could be used in applications such as LIDAR, the light radar technology used to guide self-driving vehicles and the eyes of a robot; brain ultrasound imaging; and new environmental biosensors.
The study is published in the print issue of the journal Nature.