Rockley Photonics and the University of Southampton: A Prosperity Partnership

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC)

Abstract

According to the Cisco's 2016 Global Cloud Index, hyperscale data centers will grow from 259 in number at the end of 2015 to 485 by 2020 and will represent 47 percent of all installed data center servers by 2020. 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 is developing a highly scalable optical fibre networking and packet switch solution for cloud datacenters. The heart of the solution will be the company's TopangaTM optical fiber interfaced packet switch application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). With the TopangaTM ASIC, 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. Rockley Photonics TopangaTM for the first time in the industry uses silicon photonics chips incorporating wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) integrated 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.

This proposed 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.

Planned Impact

The Prosperity Partnership is an ideal scheme to encourage impact. The most obvious pathway to impact for the devices and photonic circuits developed within the programme, together with the associated new patent filings within the Prosperity Partnership will be via Rockley Photonics exploiting the IP directly, but if this is not appropriate we will seek other exploitation with other companies via the University Research and Innovation (RIS) Office. RIS at Southampton will set up and coordinate contract agreements in order to maximize the exploitation of the generated IP. Rockley Photonics will receive priority in licensing opportunities, and then our wider portfolio of contacts will be approached for potential exploitation. Establishing a spin-out company based on existing and future IP also remains an optional pathway to impact. The investigators have established networks in academia, industry and government agencies. We will take advantage of such networks and also of our membership on various conference committees and our invited talks to create new strategic links and to increase prospects for leveraging our findings in new funding opportunities and commercial applications.

Societal impact will be via the manner in which the Rockley Photonics product will transform the architecture and power consumption of datacenters. This will in turn support the continued growth of data for business and for individuals, transforming the way in which the daily lives of advanced nations advances. Of course the pathway to the future generations of Rockley Photonics products is via the research that will be conducted within this Prosperity Partnership.

The students and researchers trained by the project and the knowledge gained through the collaborations are valuable future resources for the UK. Our programme will provide further training and stimulation to retain staff in photonics and electronics. The University of Southampton offers a range of personal development courses, including enhancing leadership qualities and effectiveness, the research team will be able to develop their technical and leadership skills. We will also utilise short visits to Rockley Photonics to give them the opportunity to learn about new equipment, processes and techniques, and to expand their own professional networks for future collaborations and to bring new knowledge back to the team.

To ensure that our research is disseminated to a broad academic audience, we will target high impact (e.g. Nature group), open access (e.g. Optics Express, IEEE Photonics) and non-photonics specific (e.g. IEEE Solid State Circuits) journals. We will also present our results at high profile international conferences, preferentially those connected to major photonics trade shows such as the CLEO conferences (USA and Europe), Photonics West (including sub-symposia on optoelectronics and green photonics), and Photon in the UK. The investigators are often symposium chairs and/or invited speakers at these major conferences. We will organise a special workshop at one of major conferences on silicon photonics for data centres.

Dissemination to the wider public will be carried out by publishing articles in scientific magazines (e.g. New Scientist and Laser Focus World) which are targeted at non-specialist readers, online platforms such as "the Conversation", and, when key breakthroughs are made, by liaising with journalists. Outreach activities will include participation in the Southampton's National Science and Engineering Week exhibition and poster presentations at the House of Commons SET for Britain. Opportunities to exhibit our research at the high profile annual Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition will be considered as results emerge. Team members will be encouraged to highlight recent results at UK and EU meetings and workshops (e.g. EPIC); we will also propose a silicon photonics for data centres topic to the Royal Society discussion meetings panel.
 
Description The excellent results continue. We have now files 7 patents, and are transferring processes to Rockley Photonics. We have produced a range of excellent results and ideas, including the world's fastest MOSCAP modulator, operating beyond 100Gb/s. The processes required to fabricate 1µm thick silicon nitride waveguides that can be incorporated into the Rockley Photonics platform have been developed. Using these novel processes, ring-resonator filters have been demonstrated in order to characterise the SiN waveguides. In addition, several iterations have led to the fabrication of multimode interferometer (de)multiplexers with low polarisation sensitivity (~3nm) in the O-band. At longer wavelengths, we have designed, fabricated and characterised 2µm modulators and achieved 25 Gb/s data rate. This represents the best result at a wavelength of 2µm reported to date in the literature. The extinction ratio at 25Gb/s was 6.3dB, whilst at 20Gb/s it was 10.3dB.
Defect-mediated detectors (DMDs) are fully CMOS-compatible and don't require Ge growth. Implantation in the intrinsic region of the detector, without annealing, creates defects which in turn create mid-bandgap states and thus enables detection at longer wavelengths at which Si is usually transparent. We have shown previously that Si DMDs can operate up to 2µm.
Exploitation Route Rockley Photonics are currently discussing with our Research and Innovation Services department, with a view to licence a number of patents developed within the programme. This will facilitate incorporation into their future products for use by third parties.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Healthcare

 
Description Seven patent applications have been filed throughout the programme, and Rockley Photonics are in discussions with our Research and Innovation Services department with a view to exploitation. We are also transferring fabrication processes to Rockley Photonics.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Economic

 
Description MISSION (Mid- Infrared Silicon Photonic Sensors for Healthcare and Environmental Monitoring)
Amount £5,757,814 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V047663/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2021 
End 06/2026
 
Description N/a
Amount £95,221 (GBP)
Organisation Rockley Photonics 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 12/2017 
End 02/2019
 
Description Plasmoniac
Amount € 3,999,459 (EUR)
Funding ID 871391 
Organisation Aristotle University of Thessaloniki 
Sector Academic/University
Country Greece
Start 01/2020 
End 12/2022
 
Description QUantum Dot On Silicon systems for communications, information processing and sensing (QUDOS)
Amount £6,123,268 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/T028475/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2020 
End 10/2025
 
Description Towards a revoltion in Optical Communications
Amount £1,055,484 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V012789/1 
Organisation University of Southampton 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2021 
End 01/2024
 
Description Towards a revolution in optical communications
Amount £1,055,484 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V012789/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 03/2024
 
Description Prosperity Partnership Partner 
Organisation Rockley Photonics
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Our team provide technical expertise in terms of device design, modelling, fabrication and testing
Collaborator Contribution Rockley Photonics bring technical expertise, device specifications, and managment expertise. This relationship is the basis of the Prosperity Partnership. Spend of the Rockley Photonics contribution this quarter (Q3 - 01/11/17 - 31/12/17) is £26,634.58. Predicted spend for the next quarter (Q4 - 01/01/2018-31/03/2018) is £234,241.52. Finally, the forecast spend in the financial year 01/04/2017-31/03/2018 is £207,606.94.
Impact None yet.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Technical collaboration on optical modulators 
Organisation California Institute of Technology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have expertise in modulator design, so we provide details of the modulator characteristics.
Collaborator Contribution Caltech have expertise in modulator driver design, so together we can optimise the electronic-photonic interaction
Impact None yet. Very early days.
Start Year 2017
 
Description University Contribution 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Optoelectronics Research Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Expertise in device design, fabrication and testing
Collaborator Contribution This is to capture the University contribution over and above the 20% of FEC. The University is contributing 3.25 man years of salary of a level 4 PDRA plus on-costs in cash. In addition it is contributing the overheads associated with this RA plus the additional overheads associated with a further 0.75 FTE of this PDRA. It is further contributing 445 cleanroom days associated with students who will work on the project, 5% of the time of Professor Mashanovich and 10% of the time of Dr Gardes.
Impact Too early
Start Year 2017
 
Title 3D taper 
Description Describes the design and fabrication of an on chip taper that smoothly varies both the width and height of the waveguide gradually. 
IP Reference GB 1905698.5 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2019
Licensed No
Impact We are discussions with Rockley Photonics regarding the licence of this technology.
 
Title A Capacitor resonator modulator 
Description This patent is the design of a ring resonator MOSCAP based optical modulator 
IP Reference GB 2101277.8 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2021
Licensed No
Impact We are discussions with Rockley Photonics regarding the licence of this technology.
 
Title Multi waveguide heights 
Description Describes a photonic chip and method of fabrication that allows a continuos vairability of the waveguide height across it. 
IP Reference GB 1917270.9 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2019
Licensed No
Impact We are discussions with Rockley Photonics regarding the licence of this technology.
 
Title Optical Modulator 
Description This patent describes the design of a resonant MOSCAP modulator 
IP Reference US 62/891,878 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2019
Licensed No
Impact We are discussions with Rockley Photonics regarding the licence of this technology.
 
Title Optical Modulator 
Description This patent describes the design of a resonant MOSCAP modulator 
IP Reference US 62/933,286 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2019
Licensed No
Impact We are discussions with Rockley Photonics regarding the licence of this technology.
 
Title Optoelectronic device and method of manufacturing thereof 
Description An optoelectronic device 100 includes a layer 102 disposed above a substrate 101, the layer having a first cavity 103 which has an inclined sidewall; the sidewalls 108 of the first cavity are lined with an insulating liner 110 to form an inclined interface between the cavity and liner; a regrown semiconductor material 111 forms part of a waveguide 106 and 107 with an inclined interface 109 between the semiconductor material 111 and the liner 110. A method of manufacturing this device includes etching the layer to form two cavities and a channel; lining the sidewalls of the first cavity with the insulating liner; depositing a blanket layer to fill the cavities; depositing an insulating capping layer over the blanket layer; annealing and subsequently cooling to form the regrown semiconductor material within the cavities; and removing the capping layer, and etching the regrown semiconductor material such that it forms part of a waveguide (figures 2A 2I). The interface and sidewall being disposed at an angle relative to the substrate of greater than 0° and less than or equal to 90°. The device may be operable as an electro-absorption modulator or a metal oxide semiconductor capacitor (MOSCAP). 
IP Reference GB2563278 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2018
Licensed No
Impact We are discussions with Rockley Photonics regarding the licence of this technology.
 
Title Photonic chip and method of manufacture 
Description A layer structure a method of fabrication allowing for waveguides of two different hieghts but with co planar top surface on the same chip. 
IP Reference GB 1820963.5 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2018
Licensed No
Impact We are discussions with Rockley Photonics regarding the licence of this technology.
 
Description Discussion Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact • February 2020: Reed contributed to a panel discussion, Photonics West, San Francisco 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description International Women's Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact • March 2019: Supporting International Women's Day. Supported by a grant from SPIE for International Women's Day, and also by the Royal Academy of Engineering
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description LGBT STEM day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact • July 2019: A talk from a scientist on "Diversity and Gender equality", and a discussion panel on Diversity issues, held in an LGBT friendly venue in Southampton City Centre. Funded by a grant from the OSA Foundation for Diversity and Inclusion as part of LGBT STEM day.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Women in Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact • February 2018: Soapbox: Women in Science at Bournemouth University
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Women into Technology 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact • March 2018: Women into Technology event for International Women's Day, Sparsholt College, Winchester
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018