twoRecent innovations in using microscopic 3D printed guides to manipulate light carrying data give the information highway a whole new concept of speed and efficiency. What more futuristic way could there be for information to travel than at previously unheard of speeds — on beams of light?

While the process has a serene, otherworldly sound to it, researchers at University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) and at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have been working hard to transmit what is very real, complex data on tiny light beams — on ECBs — that can be steered by a tiny 3D printed device able to prevent energy from eluding us as never before.

While information and light and 3D printed devices working with electronics all sound clear and tangible enough, how researchers are using it all together is a bit mind-boggling — not to mention the utter intimidation of trying to figure out how they came up with the innovation, no matter how primitively, in the first place. The teams involved clearly demonstrate that they are some of the finest contemporarlogoy minds, figuring out a way for data to be transmitted and guided far more capably and reliably, so fast we can barely fathom it — exponentially faster than can already be done via more traditional and actually, similar, methods.

Transmitting data using light beams is not a concept that is new, but it is one that previously has vexed researchers due to the difficulty in containing the energy when being used with ECBs. Because of light’s conventional and frustrating lack of facility in navigating curves and bends caused by metal connections in use with electronics without losing the energy it has earned, researchers have been busy problem-solving the issue because it’s a process that could obviously change the performance of data transmission as we know it — except for a few current kinks.

While wave guides such as optical fibers have been and are in use, they are not as fine-tuned as is required for conserving the energy contained in the light beams being discussed — which needs to travel quickly around curves, rather than gradually. This is more and more important as information and data are transported in smaller devices that are also faster.

“Computer chips and circuit boards have metal wire connections within them that transport data signals,” said Dr. Raymond Rumpf, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UTEP. “One of [the] challenges when using light is figuring out a way to make tight bends so we can replace the metal wiring more effectively.”

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Researchers at UCF at work in the lab (photo credit: UCF)

The researchers at UCF have been responsible for the use of direct laser writing to solve this conundrum. Through the fabrication of lattices at the nano-scale with 3D printing, Dr. Stephen Kuebler, associate professor of chemistry and optics at UCF, and his students have indeed been able to see light be guided around the curves and bends successfully — in fact, around curves twice as tight as anything they’ve seen before. This is exactly the type of breakthrough they’ve been looking for to facilitate the transmission of data in fast, compact computerized devices like smartphones — and they hope to double even that speed very soon.

“Direct laser writing has the potential to become a flexible means for manufacturing next-generation computer devices,” said Dr. Kuebler.

With their 3D printed devices as high-performance guides, the researchers are indeed able to guide the beams around curves without the previously experienced loss of energy. While this technology will most likely be confined to much more expensive, professional equipment at first, it’s expected that computer manufactures will want to harness its power in the future for speeding up data and avoiding the lower speeds and jam-ups that cause user frustration in some contemporary electronics.

The basic need seems to be to cram the fastest transmission technology into the smallest high-performance devices imaginable — to keep users enjoying recreation, communication, and multi-tasking capabilities.

What do you think of these latest findings using light beams to send information at more rapid speeds than we have ever known? Is this technology you are hoping to see being used soon for your own computer requirements? Tell us your thoughts in the 3D Printed Microscopic Light Beam Guides forum over at 3DPB.com.

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