iPronics delivers first reconfigurable photonic microchips
Valencia-based start-up iPronics, the developer of a plug-and-play, programmable photonic microchip, has today announced the delivery of its first shipments to several companies in distinct sectors.
The chips have been dispatched to customers in the US and Europe, including a multinational telecommunications and electronics company, a European-based optical networking company and a large US technology company.
The announcement comes just seven months after the firm announced its raising of €3.7M funding last year to bring its photonic processors to market. Its goal is to make computational photonics commercially affordable and encourage its adoption across all layers of industry.
What are photonic chips?
Emerging technology trends in autonomous vehicles and lidar, 5G signal processing, deep learning and AI, cyber security, DNA sequencing, and drug discovery require much faster, more flexible, power-efficient computation. While advanced electronic chips (e.g. GPUs, TPUs or FPGAs) are continually advancing in capability, they may struggle to keep up with increasing performance requirements, leading to today’s hardware forming a bottleneck.
While in an electronic chip, signals are delivered via electron flux passing through electrical components such as resistors, inductors, transistors and capacitors, in a photonic chip signals are delivered via photons passing – at the speed of light – through optical components such as waveguides, polarisers, and phase shifters. Photonic chips have the potential to deliver lower latency, lower power consumption (photons/light consume less energy than electrons), higher bandwidth and higher density than their electronic counterparts.
The SmartLight Processor
In iPronics’ case, the firm has developed a general-purpose photonic processor capable of programming high-speed light signals on-chip with unprecedented flexibility. Dubbed ‘SmartLight Processor’, the chip uses up to 10-times less power and can be 20-times faster than electrical chips while processing far more information.
The new processor enables the reconfiguration of a common photonic hardware platform through user-friendly software. According to the firm, this is the first-in-class fully programmable photonic chip, as previous photonic integrated circuits have been fixed-function or application-specific in operation.
iPronics has now shipped its SmartLight Processor to firms in three different industry sectors in the EU and US
It represents a cost-effective solution that enables the same hardware to be applied to a wide range of applications throughout emerging markets and technologies that have a voracious appetite for computational power. Examples include 5G and 6G communication, data centres, machine learning, artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, quantum computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The programmable nature of this technology unlocks novel commercial applications as it allows the generation of optical functionalities in software, which critically reduces time to market and total costs for system design, prototyping, and production.
Rapid time to market
In addition to its programmable advantages, the SmartLight Processor offers significant time-to-market and cost benefits, according to iPronics.
“Compared to custom photonic ICs, the development time can be cut from 18 months down to a couple of weeks,” the firm said in its shipment announcement. “This lowers the total cost and mitigates risk for our clients while delivering on the promise of photonic processing: lower power consumption, lower latency, and faster computation. The SmartLight Processor enables innovative tech companies to continue their cutting-edge silicon photonics work on several fronts such as high-speed optical communications, RF photonics, and neuromorphic computing.”
According to the firm, completing its first three product shipments in three different sectors in the EU and US makes it the first photonic start-up that has done anything beyond the R&D stage and developed a product for mass usage.
Mark Halfman, iPronics CEO, added: “For a company that was founded just prior to the pandemic, it is almost unprecedented to move so swiftly from development to shipping our first commercial orders supporting a variety of applications. Today's announcement is a testament to the vision of the company’s founders and the dedication of the entire team. This is both a watershed moment for the photonics industry and an exciting time for the company.”