A telecommunications network is a complex web of optical fiber, routers, amplifiers, waveguides, gratings and resonators that have a wide range of performance characteristics. Optical engineers who are working to refine this network need tools to help them create complementary systems that exploit these different parameters.RSoft Design Group Inc., Science Applications International Corp. and its wholly owned subsidiary Telcordia, as well as Columbia University and IBM's T.J. Watson Laboratory have formed a consortium that is dedicated to reducing the time and cost of manufacturing photonic components and to increasing reliability and productivity. The joint venture's goal is to provide an open development framework and integrated simulation tools for fast, reliable evaluation of photonic components, systems and networks.Called the Photonics CAD Consortium, or PCAD, the effort was partially funded by the Advanced Technology Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which has a federal mandate to sponsor "high-risk" technologies with the potential for long-term economic benefits in the US. As of June, the program had funded 121 electronics and photonics projects totaling $431 million."We fund virtually every technology of importance to the US economy," said Michael Schen, program manager. He said that photonics is one of the broad suite of technologies that are supported by the program, whose ultimate mission is to strengthen the economy.Competitions are held annually when the availability of funds is announced. Proposals are evaluated by experts in the field within the government and are weighed on both technical and business criteria. "We behave like a patient venture capitalist," Schen said. The program bridges the gap between basic research and product development.The consortium plans to build a four-level photonics design framework consisting of a suite of codes and connecting software, which will allow hardware vendors to plug simulation models into the framework through an open interface. Alfred A. Mondelli, director, explained that a design engineer working at the system level could experiment with components from a number of manufacturers to see which is best-suited to the application by drilling down through the different layers of the framework. Likewise, a laser manufacturer could test how its laser works in a system at a higher level."The right way to go is to have an open specification of manufacturer data so that every customer can have a tool that suits them best," said Robert Scarmozzino, chief technical officer at RSoft Design Group. He is particularly concerned with increasing the pace of development so that the results of the R&D program can be brought to a commercial stage more quickly and have an immediate impact on the US economy: "This is needed to get back to that rapid growth that we once had in the [electronic design automation] and telecom industry."