Washington: Indian-American Raj Dutt, an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, has developed a next-generation energy-efficient computer chip that has caught the attention of the Pentagon, which is testing its application in the ambitious F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
The breakthrough technology by Dutt, Chairman and CEO of privately-held APIC Corp and Photonic Corp, helps computer processors consume up to 90 per cent less energy and run up to 60 per cent faster.
"The significance of the technology is that information transfer on the semiconductor chip as well as between components, will now be done using light - photons - instead
of just electrons (electronics)," California-based Dutt told PTI.
There are many advantages in size, weight and especially power consumed, he explained during his recent trip to Washington, where he met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Photons do not generate heat, thus thy do not need to be cooled. For electronics, cooling is one of the largest cost components.
"Photonic interconnects do not generate heat and use less size than electronic copper interconnects, so more transistors can be put onto a chip. Most significantly, we have figured out how to do this using the same economical process used in manufacturing semiconductor chips today, enabling them to be stamped out by the millions," Dutt said.
Well aware with the potential of the computer chip, the US Department of Defence is fully supporting Dutt and his company. The Pentagon is testing the chip`s application in the ambitious F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
There are several benefits to the computer and defence industry, Dutt said.
"First, for military platforms there are tremendous savings in size, weight and power required, while it simultaneously brings much more capability in bandwidth, processing power and speed," he said, adding that a few hundred pounds of weight reduced from an aircraft is a giant benefit.
Now, tens or even hundreds of separate signals (frequencies) can be passed through a single fiber optic cable less than a 10th of the diameter of a human hair, rather than
one signal through a copper cable, he said.
This is called Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM). Secondly, the military spends much time and money upgrading their platform networks, pulling out old copper cables,
putting in more new ones; this technology will obviate that, Dutt said.
"The NEW HIP network, will have sufficient capacity that it never has to be replaced. This is a huge benefit. For Unmanned Vehicles, a primary benefit is extended mission time due to weight reduction, plus the ability to process information sensed on board the vehicle, rather than passed to a ground station where it is processed and sent back to the
user. The ability to do parallel processing... will enable real autonomy and learning," he said.
Dutt said a photonic microprocessor enables true parallel processing, where all the logic cores can communicate with each other simultaneously, at the speed of light, unlike
anything today, where all computing is done serially, one step at a time, and software programming must account for time delays of the electrons carrying information getting from one node to another.
Especially important is that the amount of power used in a photonic microprocessor is estimated to be less than 1/10th of what it is today, which is a massive benefit as cloud
computing, dependent on many huge data centres, use a significant and growing part of the nations` energy.
"Photonics is naturally green," Dutt said.
Dutt had made a few trips to India this year and had meetings with top leaders, including Finance Minister Mukherjee.
"We seek a strong equal partnership with Indian companies or the Indian defence establishment," he said.
"Photonic technology is the future of information transmission and processing. Those that wait will fall behind the others," he said.
To questions about the response from the Indian government, he said it is for them to decide.
"Ideally, the Indian government will decide to invest in this promising technology, possibly for a foundry to manufacture photonic chips, thus becoming the world leader in
photonic semiconductors. Right now, almost all chips are made in three foundries in Taiwan and Singapore.
"If India is manufacturing these chips, they will supply the entire world`s market; now it`s a USD 500 billion industry. That has enormous implications for the country," he argued and added that at present his company is seeking export permissions from the US Government in this regard.
Dutt said the US Navy, through the Department of Defence, is supporting the full maturation of the technology.
"We have been asked to demonstrate the technology on US Navy test bed aircraft and systems to prove its functionality and value. In development is a reconfigurable Systems
Integration Lab, where one can test and develop requirements and specifications for weapons systems," he said.
"Further they are interested in conducting two pilot programmes, one data centre, and one TBD weapons systems application. We have been asked to study and detail benefits to the DDG 51 Destroyer and Virgina Class Attack submarine, and to examine the use in Infrared Countermeasures for missile defence in aircraft," he said in response to a question.