Photon technology accelerates data transfers

Posted by Lydia Leavitt

A new photon-based optical network being researched by the U.S. government could potentially deliver huge amounts of data and images much faster than current optical networks.

What makes a photon-based system even cooler is the fact that information can be sent quickly between Earth and space.

In an attempt to harness this technology, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the photon research company Raytheon BBN Technologies $2.1 million to begin building two experimental photon-based optical networks.

Photon technology optimizes data transfersIn fact, the grant is part of DARPA's Information in a Photon program, entirely devoted to photon-based networking research. The two-part program will focus on both communications and imaging components within the photon-based network.

Within the communications realm, researchers hope to maximize the amount of content sent and received within each free-space optical (FSO) communication.

A FSO is basically an infrared laser that transmits data between two points without the help of a fibre optic cable. The challenge for researchers lies within the limitations of FSO communications, which include atmospheric conditions since the laser must travel without cabling.

DARPA explained the state of FSO communication and information transfer when it said, "Recent progress on the information capacity of optical communications has largely focused on novel 'spectrally dense modulation' techniques for increasing the spectral information efficiency of these channels.  Recent demonstrations approaching 10 bits/sec/Hz in fiber suggest that similar techniques may also be successfully employed for FSO applications."

This is where BBN comes into the equation. The company hopes to create photon networks that can send huge amounts of content on Earth and in space to replace the limited optical communications that exist today.

"The idea is to significantly increase power management, speed and reach on free space optical communication links, including far-field links used in deep space," BBN stated.

Aside from improving communications, BBN also hopes to determine the theoretical performance limits for imaging technology within the laws of quantum physics.

The project, called Fundamental Information Capacity of Electromagnetism with Squeezing and Spatial Entanglement, partners BBN with the University of Virginia to create a theoretical program to push imaging performance to the highest level possible.

"We have set out to define new quantum states of light and subsequent detection methods from which we can obtain far more image information from a lot less light," said Jonathan Habif, Raytheon BBN Technologies senior scientist.

The U.S. government hopes the research will yield new technologies that could mean faster and better communications on Earth and in space.

(Via Network World)