Saturday, November 22, 2008

Optical Computing 101: The Basics

What is optical computing?

Definition : An optical computer is a computer that uses light (photons) instead of electricity (electrons) to manipulate, store and transmit data.

The goal of this type of computer is to create a computer that is more powerful and that has greater capabilities than regular electric computers. Unfortunately, optical computers have not made it past the prototype stage. The best example to give of an optical device would be an optical mouse.

There are two types of optical computers:

  • Electro-Hybrid Optical computers

  • Pure Optical computers

Electro-Optical Hybrid

As its name would suggest, this type of optical computer uses both optics and electricity to transmit, store and manipulate data. It reads and directs data from the processor with the use of optical fibers and electric parts. Because optical computers use photons (light particles) instead of electrons (electric particles), light pulses send information instead of voltage packets. With the use of lasers, this information is changed from binary code to light pulses. And finally, the information in detected and changed back into binary code.

Pure Optical

This type of optical computer uses multiple frequencies to send the information through the computer as light waves. Unlike the Electro-Optical model, there is no use of electricity; it strictly uses optics to transmit data. Therefore, there is no need to convert the information from binary to optical, which increases the speed of the processing.


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