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Cutting-edge chip moves at light speed

By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-11 09:37

A test production line is expected to be completed this year following Chinese breakthroughs in the development of a new type of computer chip - one that replaces electrons with light, making it incomparably faster than current chips.

The production line will put China among a handful of countries in the world capable of manufacturing integral silicon photonics chips, which will clear the bottleneck created by the physical limits of conventional chips, according to scientists in Shanghai who made the breakthroughs.

Preliminary testing confirms that the research group has mastered the means to make the chips, and orders are coming in domestically and from abroad, the group's leader said.

"Our long-term goal is to help domestic enterprises stop relying on imports," said Yu Mingbin, leader of the research group at the Shanghai Institute of Microsystems and Information Technology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. "And the global market also has big potential demand for our product."

The chips are seen as particularly useful in fields relating to information transmission, such as smartphones, computers, autonomous vehicles and ultra high-definition TV. Processing speeds are dramatically improved while energy consumption is reduced.

"Even if we keep updating conventional electronic chips, it's like replacing ox carts with trucks. But now we have a solution more like airplanes, which have obvious advantages in distance and speed," said Yu.

"Individual end users will also notice big changes in their electronic gadgets - faster computers and mobile phones, and less time to download movies," he said.

The Shanghai research team said fewer than 10 companies in the world are currently capable of producing such chips, and all are based in the United States. Some European countries, Singapore and Japan are also racing to master the techniques.

"But it's not too late for China to catch up," Yu said. "We're trying to build a library of devices, the most basic units in a chip. So whatever order we receive, we'll find a solution through some combination of the units."

The Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Commission said research on the chips became a major city-level science and technology project last year. The city wants to be a world-class base for the novel technology, with the joint efforts of domestic enterprises, universities and research institutes.

Gan Pin, deputy director of the commission, said the city's ultimate goal is to establish at least 20 enterprises that would be responsible for the whole industry chain of the new chips, from design to manufacturing and testing.

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