Glass fibers instead of copper cables

Jul 24, 2006
Glass fibers instead of copper cables
Polymer chip with a micro-spectrometer: Indium phosphite photodiodes are integrated on this polytronic chip with its tiny circuit paths made of plastic. © Fraunhofer HHI

Semiconductor technology is expensive. Novel optical microchips made of plastic are set to bring down the price of fiber-optic technology in future. Personal fiber-optic connections for private individuals and industrial enterprises may soon become a reality.

Fiber-optic systems transport data at an unrivaled speed. Until now, however, it has only been worth using them to interconnect large numbers of customers. They are too costly for individual connections or for networking machines in a factory. The reason is that the optoelectronic components that transmit light information, receive it, switch it and convert it into electrical signals are made of special inorganic materials such as semiconducting compounds or ceramics. This makes them very expensive. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut HHI in Berlin have developed an alternative made of low-priced plastics.

Using a simple centrifuge procedure, various liquid plastics are applied in several layers. The resultant material has a substrate, a light-conducting layer and a top coat. When the material is exposed to light and structured, tiny circuit paths form in the light-conducting layer. The light is carried in straight lines and also around bends in this layer. The researchers connect this polytronic component – a combination of polymers and electronics – to lasers and photodiodes. In this way, elements capable of transmitting and receiving light can be integrated in the plastic module. The component becomes able to distinguish light signals of different wavelengths and forward them separately, and even to split up a light signal over several different lines.

“This allows us to implement optical applications that have never before been viable due to their complexity and the high price of fiber-optic systems,” states Wolfgang Schlaak, head of the research project “Berlin Access / Fiber to the Home”, whose participants include not only the HHI researchers but also polymer experts from the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Teltow. Schlaak is referring particularly to the possibility of networking factory machines and equipment that are normally connected by copper cables. The new module would permit the optical signals to be sent from the central computer to several devices at the same time. Before this, each machine had to have a separate connection to the central control unit. And separate optical fibers were used – if at all – for incoming and outgoing data. The new polytronic components have brought cost-effective fiber-optic connections within reach. The fiber-optic cables would still have to be laid, but the new module would make receiving, transmitting and switching affordable.

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Explore further: Renesas announces SRAM using leading-edge 16 nm FinFET for automotive information systems

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

3-D microscope method to look inside brains

Aug 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —A University of Utah team discovered a method for turning a small, $40 needle into a 3-D microscope capable of taking images up to 70 times smaller than the width of a human hair. This new method ...

'Metasurfaces' to usher in new optical technologies

Mar 14, 2013

(Phys.org) —New optical technologies using "metasurfaces" capable of the ultra-efficient control of light are nearing commercialization, with potential applications including advanced solar cells, computers, ...

New device could bring optical information processing

Dec 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers have created a new type of optical device small enough to fit millions on a computer chip that could lead to faster, more powerful information processing and supercomputers.

Recommended for you

Why the Sony hack isn't big news in Japan

4 hours ago

Japan's biggest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, featured a story about Sony Corp. on its website Friday. It wasn't about hacking. It was about the company's struggling tablet business.

Off-world manufacturing is a go with space printer

8 hours ago

On Friday, the BBC reported on a NASA email exchange with a space station which involved astronauts on the International Space Station using their 3-D printer to make a wrench from instructions sent up in ...

Cadillac CT6 will get streaming video mirror

9 hours ago

Cadillac said Thursday it will add high resolution streaming video to the function of a rearview mirror, so that the driver's vision and safety can be enhanced. The technology will debut on the 2016 Cadillac ...

Sony faces 4th ex-employee lawsuit over hack

9 hours ago

A former director of technology for Sony Pictures Entertainment has sued the company over the data breach that resulted in the online posting of his private financial and personal information.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.