DARPA Funds Optical Packet Router

DARPA awards $6.3M (for starters) to a team of researchers to develop new technologies to advance optical router capacity

May 19, 2004

3 Min Read

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- A team of researchers in industry and higher education, led by a group at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been awarded major financial support by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's Microsystems Technologies Office to develop new technologies to advance optical router capacity far beyond the current state of the art. The team has been awarded $6.3 million for the first phase of its research, with optional phases that raise the total to $15.8 million.

The team expects to develop and demonstrate all-optical technologies and systems that route data packets, the currency of the Internet, with no optical-to-electrical conversion. The potential payoff of avoiding optical-to-electrical conversions is to greatly increase the data speed and significantly reduce power requirements over today's approaches. The anticipated breakthroughs from this groundbreaking collaboration are expected to open new possibilities for the distribution of rich data, voice, and video content at vastly greater speeds and using less power.

"Imagine a data stream greater than 10,000 feature-length films blasting through an optical router in one second," said Daniel Blumenthal, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Santa Barbara and leader of the research team, in explaining the team's goal. The research, he explained, will seek "to revolutionize optical integration density and develop new technologies to advance optical router capacity beyond 100 Terabits per second (Tbps)," or about 100 times the capacity of current state-of-the-art routers.

The team is known as LASOR, for Label Switched Optical Router, and is made up of researchers from several leading technology companies -- Agility Communications, Calient Networks, Cisco Systems, Inc., JDS Uniphase -- as well as Stanford University and UC Santa Barbara. The team's work will be supported over four years by the DARPA Microsystems Technologies Office's Data in the Optical Domain (DoD-N) program, managed by Jagdeep Shah.

"Given the historical role of the government in creating the foundation of today's Internet, it is fitting that DARPA would support the development of new technologies that could dramatically affect the future of the Internet," said Prem Jain, senior vice president, Routing Technology Group, Cisco Systems. "Cisco is excited to bring its routing and optical technology leadership to bear in this innovative research program. Whether through our own research and development efforts or participating in these kinds of collaborative programs, Cisco is committed to helping develop next-generation network technologies."

UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang called the participation of prominent industry leaders in the project "very exciting for our university, where we have developed an exceptionally strong research program in optical communication and networking. The team that will carry out this research has enormous talent and resources, and we are confident that this landmark collaboration will bring about innovations of major importance."

One of the key technologies that will be utilized is the tunable all-optical wavelength converter, an integrated device that acts as a "tunable photon copier"(1) and is used to direct packets through the router using the color of light itself. The team's ultimate goal is to shrink the size of state-of-the-art routers that occupy a full 7-foot equipment rack today down to a single linecard. To achieve this goal, the LASOR team will push the boundary of how many optical devices can be integrated onto a single chip, ushering optics from the equivalent of electronics of the 1950s to the electronic revolution of the 60s and 70s.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

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