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July 16, 1991updated 02 Sep 2016 3:57pm

TOKYOGRAMS SPECIAL

By CBR Staff Writer

NEC Corp announced on July 9 that it had achieved cascade optical interconnection enabling photonic switching at 150 femto-Joules, which is an extremely low light level for switching, and 10 times lower than any previously realised level. NEC researchers say that this breakthrough makes possible much faster parallel supercomputers, using light to transfer data at the Gigabit level within an Electro-photonic processor network. Up until now, the problem with parallel supercomputers has been the number of wires used to connect the processors, which causes crosstalk – interference between separate connections, thus restricting the number of processors that could be interconnected. The two major advances that made the low-light energy experiment with cascade optical interconnection possible were a laser VSTEP Vertical to Surface Transmission Electro-Photonic Device with superior characteristics for high light output, high photosensitivity and low energy consumption, and a VSTEP array with highly uniform characteristics, enabling differential switching between VSTEPs. The announcement of the experiment was made in Tokyo on July 9 at the Electronic Information Communications Meeting for Photonic Switching Technologies, and a further paper will be given at the Optical Society of America annual meeting in San Jose in November. The announcement underlines how seriously the Japanese are taking the application of optical technologies to computing, a field where British researchers are still right up with the best in the world, although in imminent danger of falling fatally behind because of lack of funding. Up to now, the two world centres have been regarded as AT&T Co’s Bell Laboratories and Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt universities in Scotland. IBM Corp has questioned whether an all-optical computer will be commercially viable in the foreseeable future, but such pronouncements are characteristic of IBM – to the point where it is suspected that they are sometimes made simply to put competitors off the scent.

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