Integrated Photonics and Applications Centre (InPAC)
The rise of ‘big data’, artificial intelligence and the internet of things predicts that the world will be filled with ubiquitous highly integrated objects, which can monitor and interact with the world, creating new paradigms for manufacture and indeed for the way humanity lives. This vision relies on technologies to sense and interact with the world, and which can manage enormous volumes of data, all while maintaining environmental robustness and low cost that we now take for granted for consumer electronics.
Electronic technologies are excellent for processing digital information, but lack the precision, sensitivity and parallelism to sense subtle features of our analogue world and the bandwidth to transport this detailed information to central processing hubs. Photonic approaches can provide orders of magnitude more sensitivity and millions of times more bandwidth than is possible with electronics and thus a partnership between these two technologies is inevitable.
Integrated Photonics is emerging as an industrial technology enabling photonic components to be integrated directly onto microchips using the same technology currently used to mass manufacture integrated electronics. Photonic Integrated Circuits (PICs) have been the subject of research for decades, but only now has the manufacturing infrastructure and industrial demand reached the scale and intensity where this technology can drive the sort of revolutionary impact already seen with integrated electronics.
We believe that the key to success is to investigate PICs with modularity and scalability coupled with reliable and standardised interfaces. This will enable us to rapidly create and iteratively refine integrated photonic solutions to important applications – with on-chip photonic circuitry scaling exponentially as we improve technology. In this way, we can deliver unprecedented solutions to real world problems while also probing the frontiers of novel integrated photonic technologies – spanning fundamental science, translational engineering and revolutionising applications in data, defence and biomedical fields.
Integrated Photonics and Applications Centre (InPAC) was founded in 2019 by Distinguished Professor Arnan Mitchell and key members of his integrated optics research team at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
The InPAC centre comprises of one centre director coordinating six focused teams (Design, Fabrication, Interfacing, Data communications, Biomedical and Defence), each of which is led by an early or mid-career researcher and includes a cohort of students.
Using LEAN principles, the InPAC centre is focussed on the opportunities to achieve significant outcomes with end-user traction in 3 application areas in Biomedical, Defence and Data/Communications respectively and then works backwards to provide the required innovations to create impact in these areas. Each of these three application areas is headed by an applied technology researcher with ambitions for achieving industrial impact. These 3 application laboratories will engage directly with end-users in their respective disciplines to learn about the important problems and to show how integrated photonics can make impact in their area.
Once application opportunities are identified, innovative solutions will be drawn from a pipeline of capabilities represented by the three laboratories in Simulation and Design; Materials and Fabrication; and Packaging and Interfacing. This approach of end-user ‘pull’ rather than technology push will ensure that our energies are focussed on creating the greatest value for end users and ultimately impact for society.
Furthermore, the pipeline of capabilities can be directly accessed by external SMEs and other end users to enable rapid prototyping of photonic chips. The rapid prototyping of integrated photonic chips is achieved by forming modular building blocks with proven robustness and performance, allowing rapid design of complex systems that can scale exponentially in complexity and capability as we improve the fundamental technologies. We imagine these systems offering standardised, serialised interfaces – allowing end users to ‘plug them in’ to their existing systems, immediately deriving value and enabling critical feedback for the next iteration. Finally, we will monitor emerging global trends, ensuring that these chips are compatible with evolving scale up mass manufacture, so that they can be rapidly translated into the global industrial context.