I remember first arriving at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork when the SwIFT (optical Switch combining Integrated photonics and Fluidics Technologies) project was underway.
There was a sense of excitement in the air and the typical grey Irish drizzle didn’t dampen our spirits one bit. Deep down all of us were hoping we might have a chance to contribute to history in the making.
And we were right.
As our group huddled together in the laboratory of the Photonics Packaging Group, we stood in awe at the magnified image of a microfluidic cell. Before we could blink our eyes, we witnessed it moving to an adjacent location after one of the droplets was activated.
That’s when the magic happened. The liquid driven switching mechanism in a photonic chip could change an optical signal, proving our research was no longer just a theory – the hard work had paid off. Our consortium had uncovered a tiny droplet which could potentially disrupt the future of data communications and telecoms.
A blueprint for the telecommunications industry
Our society is becoming more and more used to technology at our fingertips. We can easily access thousands of films on Netflix or destroy rebellious robots in Robo Recall, a virtual reality game. We’ve become accustomated to video conferencing on Skype, saving files on One Drive and checking messages on smart watches. The list goes on and on.
As this bandwidth consumption pushes us towards fibre optics, network operators must manage high fibre densities. Ultimately, the switching solution developed by SwIFT has given the industry a blueprint to alter the network in an automated way, using software. People could spend less time conducting manual tasks and space could be saved in the central offices.
A vision for Europe and the world
The way that science works is fundamentally changing and an equally important transformation is taking place in how companies and socieities innovate, according to the European Union (EU). The advent of digital technologies is making science and innovation more open, collaborative and global.
The EU’s 7th Framework Programme for Information and Communications Technology ICT (FP7) made open innovation and collaboration amongst the brightest in the industry possible thanks to funding and visionary thinking.
IMEC’s silicon photonics expertise coupled with Technical University of Ilmenau and Bartels Mikrotechnik in-depth knowledge were key ingredients in uncovering the significance of that tiny droplet.
I’ve been privileged to be part of this journey with the SwIFT consortium, which was created to reduce operational expenses associated with installing, provisioning and maintaining of the embedded fibre plant and optical connections in today’s competitive carrier landscape.
Our discovery is only the first step. The combined expertise of the consortium members could potentially help us take a leap into the future and commercialise technology which once considered exclusively as a technology for transceivers.
Check out the video for more on how now meets next.