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DARPA Advances Lasers-on-Chips Effort

sunrise over a silicon chip

[Image: DARPA]

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has recently announced a collection of industry–academic teams that will participate in aspects of the agency’s Lasers for Universal Microscale Optical Systems (LUMOS) program, aimed at cracking the challenges of integrating lasers on silicon chips. One component of the program is a US$19 million project to be led by the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics).

The goal of the program, according to an AIM Photonics press release, is to drive toward “efficient on-chip optical gain in highly capable integrated photonics platforms” for “disruptive optical microsystems” in areas such as lidar, 3D imaging and consumer electronics.

Enhancing manufacturing capabilities

The LUMOS program is part of a five-year, US$1.5 billion DARPA “Electronics Resurgence Initiative” (ERI) focusing on investment in electronics for U.S. commercial, government and defense use. As a part of that larger program, according to Gordon Keeler, the agency’s program manager for microsystems technology, LUMOS will aim “to create unique, differentiated domestic manufacturing capabilities that are accessible to the DoD through the enhanced capabilities of existing foundries and through DoD-relevant demonstration systems created by the program performers.”

The mission to enhance manufacturing capabilities meshes well with the remit of AIM Photonics. Founded five years ago as a DOD-funded consortium under the Obama Administration’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, and now operating as a program of the New York State technology accelerator NY CREATES, the Rochester, NY-based AIM Photonics is a public-private partnership that seeks to create an “open-access ecosystem” of design, fabrication and packaging capabilities to help drive forward integrated-photonics technologies.

In the recently announced US$19 million LUMOS project, AIM Photonics will lead a team of academic, industry and government partners including the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), Analog Photonics, IQE and NAsPIII/V GmbH. The team will aim to tackle the “equipment and process challenges” associated with such laser integration, and also to develop a standard laser design for integration into silicon.

Other LUMOS partners

DARPA has also tapped a number of “performer teams” for LUMOS to create demonstration systems in “three distinct technical areas” where putting lasers on silicon could spur new commercial and defense applications.

One team, headed up by Tower Semiconductor and SUNY Polytechnic Institute, will focus on demonstrating “flexible, efficient on-chip optical gain” to enable applications in communications, computing and sensing. Another, including Ultra-Low Loss Technologies, Quintessent, Harvard University, and Sandia National Laboratories, will zero in on developing integrated high-power lasers and amplifiers for microwave applications. And a third performer team, comprising Nexus Photonics, Yale University, California Institute of Technology, Sandia National Laboratories and the University of Colorado at Boulder, will aim at “wavelength by design,” and at developing integrated lasers at “many challenging wavelengths” for use in navigation, precision timing systems and quantum information.

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