Transcript for EPSRC Prosperity Partnerships - University of Southampton and Rockley Photonics

Professor Graham Reed – Silicon Photonics Group Leader, University of Southampton (GR)

My name is Graham Reed from the University of Southampton.  My team have joined forces with Andrew Rickman’s’ team at Rockley Photonics and together we aim to dramatically improve the speed of the internet and reduce the power consumption.

Internet traffic is handled in data centres.  The structure of data centres is historically electronic but it is moving towards being optical.  We need to bring the electronics and the photonics closer together and to do that we need a low cost efficient optical material, and that material is silicon.  My team are experts in silicon photonics.  Rockley have a team covering the whole data centre architecture and so together this can potentially transform the whole technology.

Dr Andrew Rickman - Chairman and CEO, Rockley Photonics (AR)

There’s a finite limit in terms of your own research capabilities and, like any company, you are focused on your production processes and making your products, in our case the chips.  There isn’t really the capacity there to take the longer term approach to whether we could develop a new functional element in this technology.  It’s important that there is this pipeline of research work to feed our platform so we can develop new products in the future based upon those breakthroughs.


Photonics is traditionally a medium for communicating over long distances and you encode information onto an optical signal and traditionally that’s been done with very efficient, but rather expensive materials.  In a data centre we need so many more examples of these devices that have got to be much lower cost and much higher efficiency, so we have to find a way of doing that in a different material.  We know from electronics that silicon can be processed in an incredibly cost effective way, so what we are doing is taking photonics, implementing it in silicon so that we get the cost advantages, but in a way that we get good enough optical performance. 


The work is designed so it fits in as a module into the existing manufacturing process, so it can have really rapid commercialisation.  So we have created a kind of formula that allows, what would typically be a huge barrier to commercialisation, a plug in addition to an existing relatively complicated manufacturing process.


One more advantage of the Prosperity Partnership is the fact that its flexible long-term funding means that if something brilliant emerges from the research, we have the resource to look at that area and we already know that certain photonics will have lots of other application areas, such as sensing, security and many others, and by supporting this sort of relationship inevitably it enhances the probability of getting that technology out of the lab and into a product.