01.01.2021

Modular photonics growing at lightspeed

Modular Photonics’ awards cabinet is now bulging – 2020 has seen the company’s ANFF-enabled photonic chip continue to gather interest and recognition, with prizes adding to a growing list of successful installations.

Modular Photonics’ chip allows for legacy fibre optic systems to have extra life squeezed into them by adding a whole new dimension. These novel components can be retrofitted to existing fibre optic links by simply adding a novel circuit to either end of the fibre, providing thousand-fold increases in data transmission speeds.

In October, the company was recognised with a 2020 Cabling Installation & Maintenance (CIM) Platinum Innovators Award. Platinum awards go to products, projects, and programs that are deemed by CIM to be superb, offering groundbreaking approaches, or establishing new levels of performance.

Fibre optics are able to transfer large amounts of information over huge areas but soon data demand will exceed what the current networks are capable of.

Integrated photonics circuits are the backbone of fibre optic networks. They separate out different light signals, distributing incoming packages of information like an air-traffic controller. To do this the circuits use a series of channels called waveguides that carry light through the chip to a selected output.

Due to traditional manufacturing processes which are confined to creating waveguides on the surface of a glass substrate, conventional photonics circuits are limited to just two dimensions.

Professor Mick Withford and Dr Simon Gross worked with ANFF Optofab to develop a modular 3D optical chip that could provide faster data rates across legacy fibre infrastructure found in buildings, campuses, hospitals, and shopping centres. They used Optofab’s laser inscription microphotonics facility that focuses laser light at a specified distance into glass to selectively modify material. The team used this process to create waveguides within a glass block that move out of the 2D plane and to open up three dimensions of data transmissions.

The resulting device allowed existing infrastructure to provide data rates of more than a thousand times larger than they were capable of before the chip was added. Modular Photonics was spun out from Macquarie University based on this novel device, and the company has been gathering interest ever since.

The first trials of Modular Photonic’s technology saw installations at the Sydney Olympic Park and in local schools. Placement of the OMPlex modules took only a matter of hours, and the systems have been boosting performance flawlessly for over three years.

With the latest successes providing a sound foundation, the company has recently hired a new staff member to join their R&D department. The team are working with NSW Exports and Austrade to grow an international distribution network to include India, Malaysia, Middle East, and the UK – building on a list of established distributers in China and Japan – and are solidifying plans for scale up as part of a foreshadowed step change in sales that will see them become independent.

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