Six Reasons the Aerospace Sector Needs Optical I/O Solutions

by | Apr 5, 2021

Companies developing the next generation of aerospace and defense solutions are pursuing a myriad of innovative ideas and technologies. From improving surface-to-air and vehicle-to-vehicle communication to enabling autonomous vehicle and unmanned aircraft operations to developing battlefield operation solutions that support lightning-fast information processing and resource coordination, there are many exciting developments on the horizon. But there are also significant technical hurdles to overcome.

One of the most critical challenges exists at the I/O level. The problem is that next-generation I/O solutions require data processing and power-related performance beyond what today’s copper-based solutions can deliver. Fortunately, in-package optical I/O for aerospace provides a better path forward. 

Here are six key aerospace challenges that optical I/O solutions can address.

1) Rapidly Increasing Bandwidth Demands

The shift away from mechanical control systems to electronic sensors and actuators has led to aerospace designs that require extensive coordination among dense networks of interconnected sensors and compute devices. Meeting flight demands will increasingly require the rapid movement of high volumes of data throughout the compute environment without degradation. Fortunately, in-package optical I/O for aerospace increases bandwidth and signal rates compared to traditional solutions.

2) Size, Weight and Power-Related Tradeoffs in Solution Components

Size, weight and power (SWaP) considerations are integral to most aerospace applications. In many cases, sensors are far away from the processing equipment. Moreover, escalating power consumption from I/O operations outside of semiconductor packages is also a challenge. An in-package aerospace optical system supports high-transfer speeds and lower power consumption in low-weight and compact form factors.

Source: Lockheed Martin

3) New Architectural Requirements

Whether it’s to support edge computing or other design-related considerations in aircraft, radar installations, or satellites, architectural requirements in aerospace applications are changing. Optical I/O supports flexible, disaggregated architectures that can deliver composable resource pools and the high bandwidth and performance needed for complex control, communication and tracking operations.

4) Electromagnetic Interference Challenges

In large radar applications and other areas where signal integrity, performance constraints, safety considerations, or regulatory compliance are critical, electromagnetic interference (EMI) is a persistent challenge. However, optical I/O is much less likely to be affected by interference within the operating environment, providing an effective solution for aerospace optics concerns.

5) Long-Distance Signal Transmission Needs

Unlike copper-based signals, optical I/O can transport data with less signal degradation over large distances and with lower power requirements. This is ideal for the aerospace industry, which requires impeccable data transmission from great distances.

6) Space and Scalability Challenges Related to Cable Connections

Conventional cabling options are bulky, making them impractical for novel architectural approaches. Fiber optic cables are not only more compact than conventional electrical cables but they also scale better.  

By helping to resolve these key challenges in the aerospace industry, optical I/O solutions and the capabilities of in-package optical I/O support game-changing innovations for the aerospace sector. Areas such as phased array radar, satellite operations, advanced avionics, battlespace interconnectivity and more will be among the first sectors to experience the performance that optical-enabled architectures will provide.

“Optical I/O allows systems to be logically connected, but physically distributed. For instance, if you have a beamformer, there are sensors and processors that affect how the beam gets computed and formed. They are functionally and logically connected. But they don’t have to be physically co-located. They can be physically decoupled, so that you can serve different size, power and weight constraints.”

Vladimir Stojanovic, Professor at University of California, Berkeley, and Co-Founder and Chief Architect at Ayar Labs

Ayar Lab’s TeraPHY™ optical I/O chiplet is the most advanced in-package option for efficiently coupling the electrical and optical domains.

Our solution brief, “Unleashing Opportunities in the Aerospace Industry with Optical I/O,” explores the emerging importance of in-package optical I/O for aerospace in greater detail, providing an overview of:

  • Key challenges in developing aerospace and defense solutions.
  • Aerospace and defense applications of optical I/O.
  • The benefits of the TeraPHY chiplet in aerospace and defense applications.

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