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New processor computes at light speed


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start quoteOptics is the future of every information device.end quote
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HERZLIYA, Israel (Reuters) -- An Israeli start-up has developed a processor that uses optics instead of silicon, enabling it to compute at the speed of light, the company said.

Lenslet said its processor will enable new capabilities in homeland security and military, multimedia and communications applications.

"Optical processing is a strategic competitive advantage for nations and companies," said Avner Halperin, vice president for business development at Lenslet.

"Processing at the speed of light, you can have safer airports, autonomous military systems, high-definition multimedia broadcast systems and advanced next-generation communications systems."

An optical processor is a digital signal processor (DSP) with an optical accelerator attached to it that enables it to perform functions at very high speeds.

"It is an acceleration of 20 years in the development of digital hardware," Lenslet founder and Chief Executive Officer Aviram Sariel said.

The processor performs 8 trillion operations per second, equivalent to a super-computer and 1,000 times faster than standard processors, with 256 lasers performing computations at light speed.

It is geared towards such applications as high resolution radar, electronic warfare, luggage screening at airports, video compression, weather forecasting and cellular base stations.

Lenslet said its Enlight processor, unveiled at the MILCOM exhibition in Boston this month, is the first commercially available optical DSP.

Jim Tully, vice president and chief of research for semiconductors and emerging technologies at Gartner Inc, said most companies working with optics focus on switching optical signals for telecommunications rather than processing information optically.

"I'm not aware of any company that has taken it to the extent of processing optically," he said.

Lenslet has raised $27.5 million so far from such investors as Goldman Sachs, Walden VC, Germany's Star Ventures and Chicago-based JK&B Capital.

Shrinking it down

The company's prototype is fairly large and bulky but when Lenslet begins to supply the processor in a few months it will be shrunk to 15 x 15 cm with a height of 1.7 cm, roughly the size of a Palm Pilot.

"In five years we plan to shrink it to a single chip," project manager Asaf Schlezinger said.

Tully said one issue is whether this technology can be produced in volume the way silicon chips are made.

"Because semiconductor manufacturing technology is well developed, you can produce millions at quite low cost," said Tully, who is not familiar with Enlight.

Lenslet said its processor will be competitive in price with a multi DSP board.

Negotiating deals

Sariel is negotiating joint projects with companies and/or government agencies in the United States, Europe and Japan to produce the processor for specific applications. It already has projects signed with Israel's Defense Ministry.

"We don't rule out licensing our technology to others," Sariel said. "We are looking at a virtual production line where production is done by others and we provide testing equipment."

Tully said semiconductor companies are working on technology that would use optical channels inside a chip to allow very high speed communication from one part of a chip to another.

"It's conceivable this technology could become mainstream inside chips in 10 years time," Tully said.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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