Open Competition 3 - Electronics and Photonics
Next-Generation Optical Network Switch
Develop a new type of optical switch, based on a revolutionary optical MEMS platform, that is more efficient, more reliable, and faster, helping to revitalize the broadband telecommunications industry.
Sponsor: Agiltron Inc.13 Henshaw Street
Woburn, MA 01801
Fewer than 20 years ago, most of our telecommunications were carried over low-capacity, noisy copper cables. Today, fiber optics, with their lower cost, thinner size, higher carrying capacity and other advantages, have revolutionized telecommunications. But this much-heralded change from copper cables to fiber-optic systems has stalled somewhat because present optical networks still rely on inflexible copper-based electronic switches for bandwidth management functions. Next generation all-optical network systems will be networks in which signal management is accomplished using fiber optics, without conversion of signals from optical to electronic and back to optical again. In this four-year ATP project, Agiltron, Inc., will develop a new type of high-speed optical switch for use in telecommunications networks. The switch is based on a revolutionary microelectromechanical system (MEMS) platform technology and offers lower loss, higher speed, and lower voltage operation, with up to 10 times longer lifetime compared to competing optical switching technologies. MEMS technology integrates mechanical elements and sensors with silicon-based microelectronics microfabrication technology, making possible the manufacture of a complete system on a single chip. MEMS-based optical switches provide optical switching with minimal signal distortion. However, they do have large optical loss, because known MEMS approaches can only generate enough force to move small mirrors within the switch. To address these issues associated with current optical switching, Agiltron and AC Photonics propose to develop a new category of optical switches that employ an innovative new high-performance electrostrictive film material coupled with a relatively large silicon mirror fabricated on a cantilever arm that efficiently directs the light beams within the switch. This technology could revolutionize optical MEMS technology, replacing expensive and less-reliable electronic switches and enabling widespread deployment of all-optical switching networks. In addition, the innovative use of semiconductor integrated circuit manufacturing technology promises very low production costs. Optical switches will become a major infrastructural telecommunications component, with many millions of devices needed in the coming years, and could help revitalize the U.S. broadband telecommunications industry. The biotechnology, automotive, and defense industries also could find applications for the new MEMS devices. Efforts to find funding from venture capital firms and corporate industry have been unsuccessful due to the long-term, high-risk nature of the proposed research.