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Small and super-fast optical switches for future cars and quantum computers

18.11.2019 14:19

Branco Weiss Fellow Christian Haffner has led a group of researchers at ETH Zurich, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the USA and the Chalmers University in Gothenburg (Sweden) in the development of an “electro-opto-mechanical” switch for light beams that is considerably smaller and faster than current models.

The new technology may be applied in many places. Self-driving cars, for instance, could benefit from the fast and compact switches: The intensity and direction of propagation of light beams in their LIDAR systems (“Light Detection and Ranging”) need to be varied extremely quickly. Moreover, the switches could be used in optical neural networks that mimic the human brain where they would help to increase the pattern recognition speed.

Another application would be in quantum technologies where, until now, optical quantum circuits have been supported by classical optical switches that change the direction of light beams when heated. A fast switch that practically doesn’t heat up at all would work well with the low temperatures at which other quantum elements typically work.

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