What is Optical Computing

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When I say optical computing, what exactly comes across your mind. What is optical computing? Some of you might guess that it would be something related to light (because of the word optical!). Some of you may think about its computing speed and compare it you light speed. Don’t be in confusion, mate. Hypothetically, optical computing is computing using visible lights or infrared beams (IR) instead of electric current. You might wonder how it is possible. Don’t worry; just read ahead. When I am done, you will know all the things you need to know about it.

What is Optical Computing

What Is Optical Computing?

By now, you have understood that it is something related to light. Optical computing is basically a new technological approach for making the computing process better using optics and related technologies. Optical computing (also photonic computing) uses photons in the computing process which give more bandwidth naturally than the electrons used in conventional computing.

To control electricity, the conventional computers that we use today use transistors and semiconductors. The optical computers of the future may use crystals and metamaterials to control light. It means that all the component of the computer should be light based.
The entirely optical computer isn’t possibly implemented yet; it might be in the near future. But, electro-optical hybrid computing is already implemented and it has been done successfully to do some basic operations.

Why Do We Need Optical Computers?

  1. With the growth of computing technology, the need for better computers which have better computing performance has increased significantly.
  2. There is a rapid growth of the internet at the present time.
  3. The speed of the network and system is limited by the electronic circuitry system.
  4. There is a physical limit of the tradition silicon-based
  5. Again, optical computing is very fast and need less energy.

Types of Optical Computers

The types of optical computers are not constant and universal rather controversial. There might be so many version of it.

  1. Optical analog: This type of optical computers includes 2-D Fourier transform, optical matrix-vector processors, etc.
  2. Optoelectronics: This type includes the feature of shortening the pulse delay by using optical interconnections in usual chips and other logic elements.
  3. Optical parallel digital computers: For, flexibility, along with digital electronics this type of optical computer uses the inherent parallelism which is a feature of optical devices.
  4. Optical neural computers: This type uses a special kind of computing process which doesn’t require any kind of ordinary programming. They usually have streams of I/O bits (Input Output bits).

How Does Optical Computing Work?

Electronic circuits are the basis of a conventional computer which is choreographed to correspond by switching one another on and off in a sequential way very carefully. Optical computing also follows a similar kind of principle but in a different manner. The calculations are performed by beams of photons instead of streams of electrons. These photons interact with one another and with guiding components such as lenses. The electrons, against a tide of resistance, have to flow through twists and turns of circuitry whereas, the photons have technically no mass, can travel at speed of light and draw less energy.

So, the working principle of optical computers is mainly photon based. They have photonic circuits and organics-compound components. No short-circuit is possible theoretically. They have no heat dissipation The speed in the photonic circuit is high (close to light).

Component of Optical Computer

The components can be varied depending on the type of optical computers.

  1. Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser or VCSEL (a diode that emits light in a cylindrical beam)
  2. Smart Pixel Technology
  3. Wavelength Division Multiplexing or WDM (method of sending different types of wavelengths through same optical fiber)
  4. Photonic switches
  5. Spatial Light Modulator or SLM
  6. Optical memory/holographic storage

Application of Optical Computing

What actually can these optical computers do? What are its applications? Okay, optical computing has a number of significant applications.

  1. In Communication: Optical computing has a good number of applications in the communication process. They can be used in Wavelength Division Multiplexing, Optical Amplifiers, Storage Area Network,  Fiber Channel topology, etc. Optical computing makes the communication process faster, more efficient and give better performance.
  2. In VLSI technology: VLSI is Very Large Scale Integration. For solving different types of hard problems, optical computing may play a big role by helping in the VLSI technology simplification.
  3. As expanders: It can be used as expander which gives high speed and high bandwidth product connections.
  4. In solving NP-hard problems: The problems which are unsolvable by conventional computers, might be solved by optical computers.

Why Optical Computing Is Better Than the Conventional Computing

The optical computing has many advantages over conventional silicon-based computing.

  1. The optical computing is very faster (10 to 100 to 1000) than today’s conventional computing.
  2. The optical storage is far better than today’s storage system which gives an optimized way to store data by taking less space.
  3. In optical computing, the searches through databases are very fast.
  4. In it, there is no short circuit. The light beams can pass each other without interacting and interfere with each other’s data.
  5. Unlike electric crossover, the optical crossover doesn’t need three-dimensional
  6. The optical computers have higher performance.
  7. They have higher parallelism
  8. They produce less heat and noise
  9. In optical computing, the communication process will be made optimized and will have less loss in it.

The can solve such problems which are currently unsolvable for the physical limits of silicon-based


In spite of having many advantages, optical computing has some limitations also.  The optoelectronic computing is already implemented, but scientists aren’t able to build pure optical computers. Optical components and so their products are very expensive. The dust or imperfections may create scattering effects; due to this, unwanted interference pattern might be created. In optoelectronic computing, there is a basic speed limit because of conversion delays.

Summing up

Optical computing may open many new possibilities in several fields. Researches are going on and the optical digital computers are yet to come. This might start the beginning of a new era of high performance and speed. Now, I have a question for you. What is optical computing? I believe you have the answer. Lastly, this optical computing is going to have a great impact on the future computing process.

That’s all for now. Happy reading. See you soon.

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