Rockley Photonics – University of Southampton Prosperity Partnership

According to the Cisco’s Global Cloud Index, hyperscale data centers will grow to 628 by 2021 and will represent ~50 percent of all installed data center servers by 2021. This extraordinary growth prediction will exasperate an industry already struggling to cope with the costs and power requirements of existing IT infrastructure technology.

Rockley Photonics has developed a highly versatile, third-generation silicon photonics platform specifically designed for the optical I/O challenges facing next-generation communication networks and sensor systems.

Rockley’s photonic technology platform was developed with a total focus on high volume manufacture of highly integrated optical/electronic devices for high performance applications. Rockley’s technology can be adapted to be application specific, whilst simplifying manufacturing, assembly, test and validation, and optimizing power, size and cost of complex optical systems.

Rockley demonstrated this technology at OFC 2018 with the TopangaTM – the world’s first co-packaged digital packet switch bringing 100Gbps optical data links directly into the package of an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) for cloud datacenters. TopangaTM used silicon photonics chips integrated and co-packaged with the switch ASIC to directly bring high bandwidths of data on and off the ASIC. These chips use micro-scale silicon photonic opto-electronic elements (e.g. modulators) to perform the electrical-to-opical conversions with new levels of compactness and high densities pitch-matched to the ASICs to reduce electrical connection length almost to zero. Utilizing this technology, one can network up to hundreds of thousands of servers together in cloud datacenters at a fraction of the current capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operating expenditure (OPEX - mainly power), achieving greatly superior server utilization and lower communication latency required for emerging virtual reality and machine learning applications.

Just as in communications, silicon photonics will bring low-cost, high-performance, integrated scalability to a wide range of sensing applications that will deliver further advances in safety, security and industrial efficiencies. For instance, silicon photonics is poised to enable coherent LiDAR with a low-cost, high-performance and highly integrated solution, thus overcoming scalability, manufacturing and system architecture challenges. Rockley’s technology platform is ideally suited to serving this market for a number of reasons - two very important reasons being “eye-safety” at 1550nm and the capability for high power handling that translates directly into longer ranges by delivering more photons on targets down range.

This Prosperity Partnership brings together the UK's premier industry and academic partners in the field of Silicon Photonics, Rockley Photonics and The Silicon Photonics Group at the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), University of Southampton. The management team at Rockley have already been involved in 2 Silicon Photonics start-up companies and now Rockley Photonics is pioneering the 3rd generation of this emerging technology. The ORC team have demonstrated numerous world firsts in the field, and are known around the globe as a pioneering team in the field of Silicon Photonics. Together these teams will form a formidable Prosperity Partnership that will work together to transform the way in which data centre architectures handle vast quantities of data by developing novel photonic solutions to the modulation and distribution of optical signals, and the overall switching architectures. We anticipate significant impact from the funding, should we be successful.

The Silicon Photonics Group at the University of Southampton are well known internationally for pioneering work in the field since 1989. In 2012 the group moved to Southampton University where the head count has since grown by a factor of x3 to more than 40 researchers in total. Not only do the group have a large number of key collaborators within the Southampton environment, but also play a key role in running and using the clean room complex, putting them in a unique position worldwide in having design, fabrication, prototyping and testing facilities/expertise. The investment of more than £120 Million in the cleanroom complex has recently been enhanced by a £3million EPSRC investment in a photolithography scanning capability which enables fast prototyping, ideal for facilitating disruptive optical device and optical circuit research.

Together the combined teams will develop the devices and photonic circuits necessary for future generations of Rockley Photonics products.