2021 Photonic Symposium Recap

Mitch Heins

Sep 30, 2021 / 5 min read

On September 21-22, 2021, Synopsys hosted its annual Photonic Symposium to convey the current state of the integrated photonics market and its diverse end applications.

Dr. Aart de Geus, Co-CEO of Synopsys, kicked off the Symposium by talking about how integrated photonics technology is seen as an enabler for the new era of SysMoore, which he described as increasing systemic complexity with a Moore’s Law ambition. Synopsys’ response to this new era has been to introduce OptoCompiler in 2020. OptoCompiler is the industry’s first integrated platform that merges the full duality of integrated electronic and photonic design.

Following Dr. de Geus’ introduction, the symposium featured presentations by industry guest speakers covering: data communications market analysis; data center interconnect architectures; integrated photonic chip set solutions for LiDAR, health care, and sensing; and integrated photonics manufacturing. Twan Korthorst, Director of Photonic Solutions at Synopsys, wrapped up the first day of presentations by giving an overview of Synopsys solutions to accelerate the development of integrated photonics technologies.

Thank You Speakers

Lisa Huff, Senior Principal Analysis of Optical Components at Omdia, presented a market analysis of the largest integrated photonics transceivers market for data communications in and between data centers. Huff discussed industry revenue growth from cloud data centers and the shift to 400Gbps transceivers with plans for 600Gbps and 800Gbps in the next five years to support ever-growing bandwidth requirements. Of key interest was the shift to coherent architectures for communications between data centers and associated interconnect architectural changes.

Power Reduction Motivation for CPO

Huff’s discussion was echoed by Rob Stone, Facebook Technical Sourcing Manager, who gave a unique view into how data center providers are working to manage growing bandwidth requirements while keeping within the power budgets of the physical data center facilities.

Stone’s presentation noted an important shift in data center bandwidth consumption from compute, storage, and memory traffic to machine-to-machine traffic driven by the utilization of specialized hardware accelerators for video processing, machine learning, and AI inferencing training.

The increased bandwidth requirements of this new traffic are driving up power consumption in the data centers to critical stages. Data center providers are looking to move to co-packaged optics to reduce power consumption back down to acceptable levels. Stone noted that datacenter service providers need robust supplier eco-systems to move to co-packaged optics and encouraged the audience to participate in standardization efforts to enable a robust supplier ecosystem.

Robert Blum, Director of Strategic Marketing and Business Development at Intel, presented the company’s integrated photonics offerings. He noted that Intel has now shipped over 5 million 100G transceiver units. Intel’s technology allows for heterogenous integration of lasers and semiconductor optical amplifiers on their silicon photonics platform, which enables integrated LiDAR solutions used in ADAS and autonomous vehicle systems.

LiDAR on a Chip

Blum outlined advances by Intel’s Mobile Eye division, which has introduced multiple independent sub-systems for hands-free driving to address Level-4 “eyes-off” reliability and MTBF (mean time between failure) requirements.

This was followed by two presentations covering integrated photonics in healthcare and bio-sensing that promise to revolutionize these industries.

Aaron Zilkie, Rockley Photonics CTO, described Rockley’s full-stack integrated photonic solution for a multi-function “Clinic on the Wrist,” which can be powered by over 100 unique lasers on a chip. Rockley’s solution enables a spectrograph-on-a-chip application that rivals the capabilities of hardware in lab environments. One of the technology’s most impressive features is its ability to monitor glucose levels without the need to draw blood from the patient! Rockley Photonics offers not only the chipset but also a complete software stack for both data collection and big data analysis to help turn the data collected into actionable decisions.

Clinic on the Wrist

Benjamin Miller, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Optics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, presented a novel solution for quickly detecting antibody levels to determine past exposure to COVID-19 (and other) viruses at the molecular level as well as the efficacy of various treatments. Professor Miller and his research team have developed a way to cheaply mass produce this solution as disposable, one-use photonic ICs that can be used in clinical settings without the need for expensive lab equipment. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team’s focus shifted to detecting the COVID spike proteins. However, the technology can be applied to a wide variety of different molecular studies.

Representative Biological Targets

Ed Preisler, Director of Technology Development at Tower Semiconductor, outlined the contents of Tower’s silicon photonics-based PDK, including interesting features of their passive elements, optical modulators, photo detectors and couplers. Preisler highlighted Tower’s use of a triple etch process to enable lower loss waveguides and grating structures with small enough features for C & O band laser tuning while still using lower cost lithography associated with 180nm CMOS processes.

Baseline Thermal Phase Shifter

Tower has a novel approach to enhance the capabilities of thermal phase shifters by removing silicon above and below the waveguide and heater to keep heat from leaking into the substrate for the phase shifters. Preisler discussed Tower’s unique capabilities for enabling advanced packaging of integrated photonic ICs, such as the addition of v-grooves for passive alignment of fibers to edge couplers and support for thru-silicon vias to enable stacking of electronic die on photonic die for intimate RF connections between drivers and modulators. Of equal importance was Tower’s ability to establish a trench and pedestal structure for integrating III-V laser die with the silicon photonics platform.

Twan Korthorst concluded Day 1 of the Symposium with an overview of the Synopsys suite of electronic and photonic design automation (EPDA) solutions. Korthorst emphasized that the Synopsys photonic design platform leverages existing Synopsys technology in all phases of the design flow, including electro-optical design, schematic capture and schematic-driven-layout, electrical-optical co-simulation and integrated electronic and photonic physical verification.

Synopsys Photonic Solutions

On Day 2 of the Symposium, Dr. Luis Orbe, Synopsys Application Engineer, walked through the Synopsys photonic design flow and demonstrated how designers can develop custom photonic building blocks with the Photonic Device Compiler solution to use with existing foundry-specific PDKs. Once the new building block is created, Photonic Device Compiler is used to characterize the building block and create a compact simulation model for circuit-level simulations, plus the symbol and layout information for implementation.

Dr. Orbe also demonstrated the new building block in the OptoCompiler flow to build a 4-channel CWDM single-chip transceiver design including electro-optical co-simulation of the design, layout and post-layout simulation, followed by DRC and LVS checking.

Dr. Orbe concluded his demonstrations by presenting results from manufacturing the design using the Tower Semiconductor PH18 silicon photonics process. He showed close correlation between the performance of the manufactured design and the performance as predicted by OptSim simulations.

How to Access Photonic Symposium Presentations On Demand

Select Photonic Symposium presentations and demonstrations are available for viewing on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLb_8aNxGqyE0otxue42xMRKnT0TNyJ2dc.

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