Last Updated on October 22, 2023 by Kevin Chen
Image Source: FreeImages
Modern optical communications solutions are experiencing a shift in the way new devices are being developed.
Photonic integrated circuits (PICs) is an example of this shift.
PICs are microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that use photonics as well as electronics to process light as opposed to electrical signals.
These devices combine both optics and electronics into a single chip, which makes them smaller, faster, and more power-efficient than older systems.
Organizations across multiple industries can take advantage of these benefits if they adopt PICs in their communication infrastructure.
Let’s explore what you need to know about photonic integrated circuit applications.
How do the Photonic Integrated Circuits work
Photonic integrated circuits use photons to process signals. You may be wondering, how does that solve any problems?
To understand this, we first need to look at the way circuits and optical systems interact. The current state of communications technology is based on electrical signals.
However, optical signals have certain advantages over electrical signals—they travel further, are immune to electromagnetic interference, and can carry more data. An important challenge in using optical signals with electronics is converting the signals to electrical signals, and then back to optical signals again.
The conversion process can cause signal distortion and latency — which are issues in the internet of things (IoT) and 5G networks.
Key features Photonic Integrated Circuit?
To give you a better understanding, here are the key features of photonic integrated circuits (PICs) that are important to understand:
PICs consist of multiple components, such as optical modulators, filters, and amplifiers, that are tied together inside a single chip. Their complex nature makes them ideal for applications that require a large number of signal processing functions.
PICs are made with silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology, which enables engineers to incorporate photonic elements inside a tiny silicon chip. This small size makes them ideal for systems where space is limited such as mobile devices, servers, and data centers.
Low power consumption
Photons, the fundamental particles of light, are highly efficient at transmitting data, which means that PICs use less power compared to electronic chips. Since PICs consume less power, they are well-suited for applications that run for long periods of time, such as autonomous vehicle networks.
PICs can be used in a wide range of applications across different industries because of their flexibility to provide a variety of signal processing functions.
Engineers can program PICs to perform a wide range of tasks, which makes them suitable for new applications.
Application in optical communication
One of the most common photonic integrated circuit applications is in optical communication.
In this application, modulators and lasers are used to convert electrical signals into optical signals. These modulators use PICs to change the intensity of light beams so that they can represent data with varying levels of brightness.
The light beams are then sent through the optical fiber to the receiver, where lasers translate the data back into electrical signals.
Optical communication is used in a variety of industries, such as telecommunications, computer networking, and medical devices.
In telecommunications, optical communication is used to transmit data between switching stations.
Application in computer networking
Computer networks rely on fiber optic cables to transfer data between two points. Data can be transmitted over optical fiber using photon-based modulation, in which data is represented by light pulses.
Optical communication networks are advantageous because they are less susceptible to electromagnetic interference than electronic communication networks. Since optical communication networks use light to transmit data, they also consume less power compared to electronic networks.
Optical communication networks use PICs to convert electrical signals into light pulses and vice versa. PICs are often used in long-haul networks, where they are installed in optical repeaters to boost signal strength. They are also used in local area networks (LAN) that connect servers and computers.
Application of PIC in AR and VR technologies
Image source EON
Augmented reality and virtual reality technologies rely on the transmission of large amounts of data. Traditional communication systems are not optimized for such high data rates, which is why photonic integrated circuits can improve the user experience.
PICs are capable of transporting large amounts of data with low latency, as well as with high efficiency. PICs can help reduce the effects of distortion, jitter, and noise, which are common issues in communication systems.
They also have the ability to transport data with high accuracy and consistent timing, which are essential for achieving a high-quality AR or VR experience.
Application in autonomous driving
At this point, you must have heard of, or even experienced the self-driving technology. Another photonic integrated circuit application is in autonomous driving. In this application, PICs are used to convert images captured by sensors into electrical signals. These signals are then analyzed to determine the car’s surroundings and detect moving objects like pedestrians or other vehicles.
In this application, PICs are often combined with other components such as digital signal processors (DSPs), field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs).
The combination of different components enables autonomous car manufacturers to perform complex functions such as image processing and machine learning.
Application in the biomedical industry
The biomedical industry has adopted PICs for medical devices such as retinal implants, pacemakers, and cochlear implants.
These devices use PICs to convert electrical signals into optical signals and vice versa. These devices are often used to treat diseases such as blindness, cardiac arrhythmia, and deafness.
PICs are used to convert data into optical signals and transmit data to optical fibers, which are then connected to the medical devices.
Application of PIC in Agriculture
PICs are also used in the agriculture industry.
In this application, PICs are used to detect the presence of pests and plant diseases using sensors.
The sensors detect the pests and diseases and then transmit the data to a computer or smartphone through optical fibers. PICs are also used in an agriculture application called precision agriculture, which involves collecting data about soil conditions, crop growth rates, and weather to improve the farming process.
PICs are used to collect data about soil conditions such as moisture levels, salinity, and PH levels.
Application of photonic integrated circuits in military
PICs are used in a wide range of military applications. For example, they are used to detect and identify weapons and explosives in airports and border crossings.
PICs are also used in secure military communications where they are connected to communication networks such as Wide Area Networks (WANs) and Local Area Networks (LANs). PICs are used in secure military communications because they provide better security compared to traditional communication methods such as fiber optics.
They are also used to detect and identify malicious activities in communication networks.
Application of PIC in quantum processing and sensing
As the demand for IoT devices increases, industries will need to enhance their sensing capabilities to collect more data. PICs are a promising solution for quantum sensing, as well as quantum processing.
Quantum sensing refers to the ability to measure the properties of photons. Quantum processing is the ability to manipulate quantum information. These are important features for the IoT, which will generate large volumes of data.
Photonics are used in aerospace industry
The aerospace industry has also adopted photonic integrated circuits. PICs are used in satellites to convert electrical signals, which are generated by sensors, into optical signals.
The optical signals are then transmitted to ground stations via optical fibers. Satellites often use PICs to detect changes in Earth’s weather, natural disasters, and adverse weather conditions such as tornadoes and hurricanes.
PICs are also used to receive images from Earth-observation satellites.
Examples of devices that have photonic integrated circuits
There are a few devices that have photonic integrated circuits. This includes transceivers, modulators, and lasers.
– Transceivers: Transceivers are devices that convert electrical signals into optical signals and vice versa. PIC-based transceivers can be designed to operate at high data rates.
– Modulators: These devices convert digital signals into modulated optical signals, which can be transmitted over optical fibers.
– Lasers: These are devices that generate laser light with a specific wavelength.
– PICs in a WDM network: It is common for telecom companies to use a technique called wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) to increase the number of channels in a fiber optic network. WDM networks use PICs in the optical network interface devices (ONIDs) at the edge of the network.
How do I choose the right photonic integrated circuit?
When choosing a photonic integrated circuit, you need to consider several factors, including the circuit’s capabilities, size, and cost.
You should also take your time to check the datasheet of the IC that you want to buy. It will give you technical details of the product and how it will perform.
Having an expert in the matter of electronics will be an added advantage when it comes to choosing the perfect photonic integrated circuits.
Choose a reliable photonic integrated circuit supplier
In order to adopt photonic integrated circuits in your organization, you first need to identify a reliable photonic integrated circuit supplier.
It is important to perform due diligence on photonic integrated circuit suppliers. Find out if they have experience in the industry where you intend to deploy their products. You should also verify their credentials by checking their track record.
You can also check their reviews to see what customers have to say about their products and services.
Companies like ICRFQ that specialize in supplying photonic integrated circuits to organizations and even individuals that wish to use these ICs for their applications.
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