Whispering lasers could be the answer for faster internet

9 Mar 2016

We are quickly approaching the limits of what speeds we can reach on the internet as it stands, but one research team thinks it can solve the eventual crisis using ‘whispering lasers’.

While whispering lasers might sound like the name of the second album of a 1980s synth band, it could play a major role in the future in the development of a means of transferring huge amounts of data at high speeds without any complications or loss.

Currently, transferring large amounts of data over wires causes a number of complications over time, most notably that the more energy being used, the hotter the wires get, leading to interference among the wires.

The most obvious example of this is seen with data centres, which are subjected to continuous cooling to counteract the heat being generated by the servers that hold much of our data.

What’s the answer? Lasers, of course

So much, in fact, that, by 2020, the US National Resources Defense Council predicts that data centres in the US alone will consume 140 billion kilowatt-hours per year, but if we were to have data centres that didn’t require continuous cooling, the energy consumption would plummet.

That’s why, according to the University of California San Diego, a team of photonics researchers has proposed replacing electrical wiring with lasers.

More specifically, the team wants to use light to transfer huge amounts of data through glass fibres.

One of the researchers, Janelle Shane, explained: “What we found is that, if we send data via light down fibres made out of glass that can transport light from one place to another, then suddenly we can fit a lot more information on one strand of glass than we ever could on a wire, because we can put different colours of light down the same wire.”

What the team hopes to achieve now is to create a tiny laser capable of fitting onto a computer chip that would be 100-times thinner than the diameter of a single human hair, which is obviously no easy feat.

Lasers heat image

Wave patterns produced by whispering gallery lasers. Image via Janelle Shane

Drawing inspiration from architecture

As for the fibre optics cabling itself, Shane and her fellow researchers have drawn inspiration from architecture, specifically an audio phenomenon found in domed buildings – called the whispering gallery – that lets someone hear a sound from one side of the dome to the other.

Known as whispering gallery waves, the physics behind it can also be applied to lasers, as it turns out.

“We’ve got the same thing set up inside of our lasers. They are ‘whispering gallery’ mode lasers. The light is bouncing around the outside of our laser and reaching its original point,” Shane explained.

They now hope that the optimal patterns of bouncing lasers found at larger scales can be replicated as the laser gets smaller and smaller, making data transfer incredibly fast, but also cooler for future electronic devices.

Laser beams illustration image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic