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  • Xerox Develops New Optical MEMS Switch
Apr 2003
ROCHESTER, N.Y., April 18 -- Xerox says it has "broken the bandwidth barrier" by integrating an optical microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) photonic switch with planar light circuits on a single silicon chip small enough to fit on a fingertip.

The new switch promises to provide rapid delivery of optical services by providing the functionality of a reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer (R-OADM), a routing device that's commonly used today but is 10 to 100 times larger, and more costly, the company said.

'New Era'
"Optical networks based on our technology could go way beyond delivering on-demand DVD-quality videos in homes," said Joel Kubby, a technical manager at Xerox's Wilson Center for Research and Technology in Webster, N.Y. "Our switch could help usher in a new era of undreamed-of Internet applications, changing the way we do business, seek information and find entertainment."

Today's optical networking equipment must switch from the optical to the electronic domain. Xerox's technology enables switching in the all-optical domain. Because it controls the flow of light rather than the flow of electrons, Xerox said, it is ultimately faster, smaller and cheaper.

Instant Installation
"With the Xerox switch, an entire R-OADM can be compressed into 2 cm x 1.5 cm, and can direct enormous amounts of data in ways that currently require large racks of assembled equipment," Kubby said. "Our technology would let telecommunications companies install systems locally, and even on utility poles."

"Waveguides are very small conductors of light, about 5 to 6 microns, or 1/10 the thickness of a human hair. The Xerox MEMS waveguide shuttle acts like a miniature train track switch for the fine waveguides, avoiding the problems of earlier, mirror-based MEMS switches.

The MEMS switches and waveguides are made together on a single crystal silicon wafer using widely available semiconductor processing equipment. Such on-chip integration avoids the complex alignment issues associated with manually connecting different and larger components with optical fibers, and avoids the cost and space associated with manufacturing, assembling and packaging the separate components of add/drop multiplexers, according the Xerox.

Uniform Routing
"The new also technology eliminates the need for technicians to make routing changes in the field, ultimately bringing bandwidth to consumers faster.

Kubby created a working prototype 8-channel reconfigurable OADM. Xerox said it intends to commercialize the technology by licensing it to leading companies in the optical switching market.

The new optical switch technology builds on a broadly enabling MEMS fabrication platform developed under a grant provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in its Advanced Technology Program. Xerox is the lead partner in the Optical MEMS Manufacturing Consortium, and Kubby is the principal investigator for the consortium's project. Other partners include Palo Alto Research Center, a subsidiary of Xerox; Corning IntelliSense, a MEMS foundry and software company; Microscan, a data acquisition firm; and Coventor, a MEMS software company. The are developing a manufacturing process for pptical MEMS that can be broadly used .

"Taking advantage of our MEMS knowledge to create breakthrough technology for telecommunications and other industries is an outgrowth of our core MEMS research for internal Xerox applications in digital printing," said Kubby.

Kubby and his team began conducting MEMS research at Xerox in 1993, and optical MEMS in 1998. Using optical MEMS, Xerox is working to improve color image quality during the color reproduction process. Optical MEMS devices could eventually eliminate the need for high-cost precision manufacturing of components that stabilize movement in Xerox photoreceptor belts.

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