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UK’s silicon photonics consortium welcomes £4.8 million boost to R&D

By Ashton Young
Fri 14 Jul 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Rockley Photonics Limited recently announced a ‘Propsperity Partnership’ with the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) where it will match government funding from the Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC) over the next five years.

Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson made the official announcement along with additional projects involving 10 universities and businesses operating in key areas of innovation at a special event at BT’s HQ.

According to Rockley Photonics, the money totals around a whopping £4.8 million and will be used to support research into how silicon photonics technology can be used to improve data center communications networks and support a new integrated photonics platform for broader mass market applications.

Founder, CEO and chairman of Rockley Photonics, Dr Andrew Rickman says they are honoured to have their technology and business endeavours supported and recognised by the EPSRC in this funding initiative.

“Rockley Photonics and The University of Southampton team has a long-standing history of working together. Our partnership, built up over many years, demonstrates the value of relationships between academia and commercial enterprises such as ours,” says Dr Rickman.

“It gives us the ability to combine resources and academic excellence and focus on ground-breaking, early-stage technologies, such as silicon photonics.”

Dr Rickman asserts research in this area is moving at a rapid pace.

“In the very near future, this game-changing, disruptive technology will soon have a huge impact on the future architecture design of large data centers; improve the power and compute capacity of new consumer devices and provide robust sensing solutions in a variety of industry sectors, such as autonomous vehicles and biomedical,” says Dr Rickman.

“All this at dramatically lower cost and with considerably less power requirements.”

Professor of Silicon Photonics at Southampton, Graham Reed affirms that Dr Rickman is the world’s leading entrepreneur in this field.

“We have a long history of working together and this collaboration is almost the perfect fit for the remit of the Prosperity Partnerships – a truly mutual relationship between university and industry,” says Reed.

“At Southampton, our expertise and facilities offer a unique environment for silicon photonics research and innovation. One of the world’s most pressing problems is how to handle our relentless desire for more data and we are striving to make significant improvements.”

Professor Nigel Titchener-Hooker, Professor of Biochemical Engineering at UCL, who chaired the panel that approved the Prosperity Partnerships projects, says the quality and breadth of the applications reviewed was outstanding, highlighting the diversity of UK industry and the alignment between the UK’s very best academic teams and industrial base.

“The grants promise to create a series of exciting avenues of research leading to industrial implementation,” says Titchener-Hooker.

“It's a wonderful new example of how, in partnership, we can harness our collective capabilities to strengthen our economy and once again underscores the importance of ongoing investment in the higher education research base.”

There are many challenges ahead, not least of which is the world’s increasing aptitude for generating astronomic volumes of IP traffic taking its toll on energy.

According to Rockley Photonics, data centers are currently consuming about three percent of the global electricity supply – 416.2 terawatt hours last year, which equates to more than the total consumption of many individual European countries including the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Poland and the United Kingdom.

Silicon photonics is seen as one of the key technologies to solve some of these key challenges, particularly in the deployment of energy efficient solutions for large data centers, as well as applications in high performance computing.

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