Holey Optochip, Batman!

It’s the speed that stuns—one terabit of information per second can be transferred, from the March 8, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

IBM scientists today will report on a prototype optical chipset, dubbed “Holey Optochip”, that is the first parallel optical transceiver to transfer one trillion bits – one terabit – of information per second, the equivalent of downloading 500 high definition movies. The report will be presented at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference taking place in Los Angeles.

With the ability to move information at blazing speeds – eight times faster than parallel optical components available today – the breakthrough could transform how data is accessed, shared and used for a new era of communications, computing and entertainment. The raw speed of one transceiver is equivalent to the bandwidth consumed by 100,000 users at today’s typical 10 Mb/s high-speed internet access. Or, it would take just around an hour to transfer the entire U.S. Library of Congress web archive through the transceiver.

For me, this is probably the most interesting aspect of the technology,  from the March 8, 2012 IBM news release,

A single 90-nanometer IBM CMOS transceiver IC [integrated circuit] with 24 receiver and 24 transmitter circuits becomes a Holey Optochip with the fabrication of forty-eight through-silicon holes, or “optical vias” – one for each transmitter and receiver channel. Simple post-processing on completed CMOS wafers with all devices and standard wiring levels results in an entire wafer populated with Holey Optochips. The transceiver chip measures only 5.2 mm x 5.8 mm. Twenty-four channel, industry-standard 850-nm VCSEL (vertical cavity surface emitting laser) and photodiode arrays are directly flip-chip soldered to the Optochip. This direct packaging produces high-performance, chip-scale optical engines. The Holey Optochips are designed for direct coupling to a standard 48-channel multimode fiber array through an efficient microlens optical system that can be assembled with conventional high-volume packaging tools.

Photomicrograph of the back of the IBM Holey Optochip with lasers and photodectors visible through substrate holes. (Credit: IBM)

As they note a few times in the news release, this technique can be applied to the standard manufacturing techniques currently in use. From the IBM news release,

Using a novel approach, scientists in IBM labs developed the Holey Optochip by fabricating 48 holes through a standard silicon CMOS chip. The holes allow optical access through the back of the chip to 24 receiver and 24 transmitter channels to produce an ultra-compact, high-performing and power-efficient optical module capable of record setting data transfer rates.

The compactness and capacity of optical communication has become indispensable in the design of large data-handling systems. With that in mind, the Holey Optochip module is constructed with components that are commercially available today, providing the possibility to manufacture at economies of scale.

In addition, they say this will be power efficient, a rather neutral comment. The Holey Optochip may be power efficient but it is likely that people will change their behaviour once information moves faster. As per IBM’s own example, what happens when you can download “500 high definition movies in one second?” The ability opens up new possibilities sometime in the next ten years when this new technology comes to market.

The headline, by the way, comes from a hokey 1960s tv series featuring Batman and a Robin who interjected many, many scenes with Holy ????, Batman! You can find a list of the interjections here or you can watch a video compilation here.

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