Although photons of light dominate the long-distance information superhighways of the Internet, electrons remain the workhorses that move and process information at the local level. Visionaries have imagined for decades that power-efficient light-based communication would migrate to ever-shorter distances and eventually move onto silicon chips alongside transistors at the centimeter scale.
After more than a decade of research and development, chips with onboard photonics are poised to enter the marketplace. Rather than connecting nearby electronic circuits, however, these devices aim to provide high-bandwidth connections over hundreds of meters or longer. Some devices could provide customized solutions for servers and exascale computing, whereas others target the large but cost-sensitive data center market.
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