In Brief
Data-processing start-up Optalysys has just been given a a $350k grant from DARPA to develop optical co-processing technology. The light-based computing systems the company develops is hoped to be used for intensive mathematical calculations without the data management problems of current systems.

Moore’s End

Moore’s law is coming to an end. The same industry that developed the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years is acknowledging that the law just doesn’t apply anymore. Which is why the trend has shifted towards finding computer technologies that not based on silicon, like new semiconducting materials or quantum computers.

Or light. Light works too.

Data-processing start-up Optalysys has just been given a $350k grant for a 13-month project from DARPA to further develop the company’s optical co-processing technology. The tech is to be used to solve complex mathematical equations relevant to large-scale scientific and engineering simulations such as weather prediction and aerodynamics.

Optalysys, a spin-off from Cambridge, uses light instead of electricity in computer systems. Other than the energy efficiency provided by light, the company also expects to develop massively-boosted processing capabilities for present computer systems, with the aim to eventually reach exaFLOP rates (a billion billion calculations per second).

In a nutshell, the technology uses light to operate at a fraction of the energy cost of conventional high-performance computers and has the potential to operate at figures much faster and more efficiently than present-day machines.


Project EQUATE

The specific Optalysys project that was given the grant is named Project EQUATE. It is the project that is directly aimed towards solving complex mathematical equations that form the basis of large-scale simulations such as those used in the dynamical core of earth systems modeling.

In particular, the project is trying to produce optical processing systems that are capable of high-end tasks used in computational fluid dynamic simulation models such as Direct Numerical Simulation, a system that accurately models real-world fluid, and Large Eddy Simulation, which also models fluids but in a less computationally intensive way.

Other Optalysys projects include Project GENESYS, which aims to create a Genetic Search System for The Genome Analysis Centre, and Project ESCAPE, which develops world-class, extreme-scale Optalysys computing capabilities for European operational numerical weather prediction.