After the revolution that optical fiber has brought to cable connections, light is now preparing to make wireless up to a hundred times more powerful. And this thanks to an innovative chip. This is the result of research coordinated by the Politecnico di Milano and conducted in collaboration with the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna di Pisa, the Californian University of Stanford and the British University of Glasgow, as part of the European Superpixel project.
A wireless suitable for different fields
The chip in question allows to separate light beams even if they are superimposed on each other and if the shape in which they arrive at their destination has changed and is unknown. The fields that will benefit from wireless connections are numerous and range from self-driving cars to wearable devices for augmented reality, up to biomedicine.
Specifically, the silicon chip, measuring 5 millimeters, is able to receive light beams separately thanks to a multitude of microscopic optical antennas. It is therefore able to manipulate them, ordering them, thanks to a network of integrated interferometers. By eliminating in this way the interference between the light beams, the chip allows to manage a quantity of information about one hundred times greater than that of today’s high-capacity wireless systems, of over 5000 GHz.
Not a simple photonic technology
In the same way that it happens in optical fibers, also in free space light can travel in the form of beams of different shapes. Those are called “modes”, each of which can carry a flow of information. Generating, manipulating and receiving more ways means transmitting more information.
Unfortunately, free space is a much more hostile, variable and unpredictable environment for light than an optical fiber. Elements encountered along the way such as obstacles, atmospheric agents or more simply the wind, can modify the shape of the light beams, mix them and make unrecognizable and unusable.
“A peculiarity of our photonic processor is that it can be self-configured very simply, without the need for complex control techniques. The chip is able to adapt in real time to compensate for effects introduced by moving obstacles or atmospheric turbulence. allowing to establish and maintain optimal optical connections at all times ”FRANCESCO MORICHETTI, HEAD OF THE PHOTONIC DEVICES LAB AT THE POLITECNICO DI MILANO
Thanks to the collaboration that led to this result, Italy is in a leadership position on photonic technologies for communication, sensors and biomedical.
“The possible applications are many. high-precision positioning and localization systems for self-driving vehicles, sensors and remote object recognition, portable and wearable devices for augmented reality and new investigation techniques for biomedical applications”Andrea Melloni, director of Polifab, the micro and nanotechnology center of the Milan Polytechnic