Ayar Labs: Photonic communication comes to computer chips

Ayar Labs: Photonic communication comes to computer chips

“This will change the availability of optics, and how the world can use optics, in ways beyond what we can predict right now,” says CEO Alex Wright-Gladstein of Ayar Labs, a CITRIS Foundry company.

MIT News: April 16, 2018 – With novel optoelectronic chips and a new partnership with a top silicon-chip manufacturer, MIT spinout Ayar Labs aims to increase speed and reduce energy consumption in computing, starting with data centers.

Backed by years of research at MIT and elsewhere, Ayar has developed chips that move data around with light but compute electronically. The unique design integrates speedy, efficient optical communications — with components that transmit data using light waves — into traditional computer chips, replacing less efficient copper wires.

According to the startup, the chips can reduce energy usage by about 95 percent in chip-to-chip communications and increase bandwidth tenfold over their copper-based counterparts. In massive data centers — Ayar’s first target application — run by tech giants such as Facebook and Amazon, the chips could cut total energy usage by 30 to 50 percent, says CEO Alex Wright-Gladstein MBA ’15.

“Right now there’s a bandwidth bottleneck in big data centers,” says Wright-Gladstein, who co-founded Ayar with Chen Sun Ph.D. ’15 and Mark Wade, a University of Colorado graduate and former MIT researcher. “That’s an exciting application and the first place that really needs this technology.”

In December, the startup penned a deal with GlobalFoundries, a top global silicon-chip manufacturer, to bring its first product, an optical input-output system called Brilliant, to market next year.

The chips could also be used in supercomputers, Wright-Gladstein adds, which have similar efficiency issues and speed constraints as data centers do. Down the road, the technology could also improve optics in various fields, from autonomous vehicles and medical devices to augmented reality. “We’re excited about not just what this can do for data centers, but what new things this will enable in the future,” Wright-Gladstein says.

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