GloFo backs startup to put optical I/O on ICs

December 04, 2017 // By Peter Clarke
Globalfoundries Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.) is collaborating with Ayar Labs Inc. (Emeryville, Calif.) to bring optical I/O to silicon chips and has invested an undisclosed amount in the 2015 startup.

The companies will develop and manufacture Ayar's CMOS optical I/O technology using Globalfoundries' 45nm CMOS manufacturing process. The solution is created as a multi-chip module that can deliver 10x the bandwidth of copper at 5x lower power, Globalfoundries said. The technology, including certain design IP cores, will enable internet service providers, system vendors and communication systems to push bandwidths to 10 terabits per second (Tbps) and beyond, while maintaining the low energy and cost of optical-based interconnects, Globalfoundries said.

Ayar's goal is to apply its technology to improving bandwidth and saving power in data centers, cloud servers and supercomputers.

Ayar was founded in 2015 as Optibit Inc. to capitalize on a decade of academic work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley and University of Colorado at Boulder.

The founders were Alex Wright-Gladstein who serves as CEO; Chen Sun who serves as CTO and Mark Wade, who serves as chief scientific officer. The simple mantra was "zero-change" to allow foundry CMOS manufacturing processes that were good for complex digital circuits to accommodate photonics. The company raised $2.5 million in Series A in August 2016.

An early demonstrator achieved 2.5Gbps photonic links using standard CMOS materials silicon, silicon-germanium and silicon nitride in a CMOS on silicon-on-insulator process. The researchers were compelled to use an external light source to drive the photonic devices at a wavelength of 1.18-micron. This wavelength allows the use of waveguides in silicon.

"Globalfoundries has demonstrated true technology leadership in recognizing optical I/O as the inevitable next step as we move into a More-than-Moore world," said Alex Wright-Gladstein, CEO at Ayar Labs, in a statement issued by Globalfoundries.

"The Ayar Labs team has been designing cutting-edge silicon photonics components on Globalfoundries technology for the past eight years and has achieved exceptional results," said Mike Cadigan, senior vice president of global sales and business development at Globalfoundries, in the same statement. 

Ayar was founded by the the inventors of the first microprocessor chip to communicate using light at MIT, UC Berkeley, and CU Boulder, a breakthrough that was the result of a 10-year research collaboration funded by DARPA.

Related links and articles:

www.globalfoundries.com

www.ayarlabs.com

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