Rockley Photonics teams up with Southampton University on silicon photonics

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Rockley Photonics, a silicon photonics start-up founded by entrepreneur Andrew Rickman, has formed a partnership with the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the UK’s University of Southampton to develop integrated photonics technology for mass market applications.

Through the ‘Prosperity Partnership’, Rockley Photonics will match the ORC’s government funding over the next five years. The scheme is designed to strengthen ties between university and industry, and speed up the time it takes innovation to progress from concept to market place.

The money, totalling around £4.8 million, will be used to support research into new data centre architectures enabled by silicon photonics and create a new integrated photonics platform for broader mass market applications.

Dr Andrew Rickman, founder, CEO and chairman of Rockley Photonics, commented: “Rockley Photonics and the University of Southampton team has a long-standing history of working together. Our partnership… demonstrates the value of relationships between academia and commercial enterprises such as ours. It gives us the ability to combine resources and academic excellence and focus on ground-breaking, early-stage technologies, such as silicon photonics.”

Research in to this area is progressing quickly, Rickman said, and will have a huge impact on the future architecture design of large data centres; improve the power and compute capacity of new consumer devices and provide robust sensing solutions in a variety of industry sectors, such autonomous vehicles and biomedical. “All this at dramatically lower cost and with considerably less power requirements,” he added.

Data centres currently consume about three per cent of the global electricity supply: 416.2 terawatt hours last year. That is more than the total consumption of many European countries, including the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Poland and the United Kingdom.

Some of the world’s key challenges are handling and manipulating the enormous amounts of data associated with the modern world, as well as the energy implications of doing so. Silicon photonics could be instrumental helping to create energy efficient solutions for large data centres.

Founded in 2013, Rockley Photonics has hinted at its what its technology can do, but remains coy about the details (see Rockley Photonics touts technology for scaling data centre networks). Speaking to Fibre Systems at OFC 2017 earlier this year, Rickman said the company was bringing photonics and electronics together to create chips with direct optical interfaces, thus eliminating the distance limitations associated with high-speed electrical connections across circuit boards.

The Silicon Photonics Group at the ORC will receive £2.7 million from the from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and an additional £2 million from Rockley Photonics while Southampton University will contribute £148,000.

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