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Lightmatter Startup Tries to Speed Up Computing Using Light

Lightmatter L1 fabric
Lightmatter L1 fabricSource: Lightmatter Inc.

The idea of using light instead of electricity in computing has been around for decades. Boston-based startup Lightmatter Inc. believes the technology’s time has finally come.

The potential benefits -- greater speed requiring less power -- are understood. But the approach, known as photonics, has mostly foundered because it’s difficult to design and manufacture the required circuitry.

Lightmatter says it has fixed this problem with a special processor and a fabric to connect other computer components together. It is pitching the solution to big data center operators, such as Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google, which is an investor via GV, venture capital arm of parent Alphabet Inc.

The startup’s technology uses tiny structures called “wave guides” that redirect light. These new components do a lot of the work that is usually handled by wires. Then other chips, known as silicon photonics, turn the light into electrical signals that existing computing gear can understand.