50 meters of new integrated optical waveguides will enable vastly superior tactical gyroscopes and other devices

DARPA’s integrated Photonic Delay (iPhoD) program created a new class of photonic waveguides with losses approaching that of optical fiber. The new waveguides are built onto microchips and include up to 50 meters of coiled material that is used to delay light. Conventional fiber optic coils of the same length would be about the size of a small juice glass. These waveguides also employ modern silicon processing to achieve submicron precision and more efficient manufacturing. The result is a new component that is smaller and more precise than anything before in its class.

“Prior to the start of iPhoD, the best integrated waveguides had a signal loss of about 1 decibel per meter with total lengths of only a few meters,” said Josh Conway, DARPA program manager. “Under iPhoD, two research teams created chips with loss around 0.05 decibels per meter. The submillimeter bend diameter, which describes how tightly the waveguide can coil without significant signal loss, allowed the demonstration of a 50-meter optical delay on a single microchip.”

“These results are firsts for optical waveguides with performance that is equal or superior to larger, fiber optic-based devices,” added Conway. “Chip-scale waveguides, with smaller sizes and new integration possibilities promise advanced, compact military systems such as tactical gyroscopes that significantly outperform state-of-the-art MEMS devices with the same footprint.”

Ultra-low loss, true-time delay chip developed at the University of California, Santa Barbara with four different delay lines

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