The Future of Ultrafast Analog Electronic Signal Processing with Optics

In a groundbreaking development, Professor Wang Cheng and his research team at the City University of Hong Kong (CityUHK) have introduced a cutting-edge microwave photonic chip that has the potential to revolutionize the field of analog electronic signal processing and computation using optics. This innovative chip, which boasts being 1,000 times faster and more energy-efficient than traditional electronic processors, opens up a myriad of possibilities in various applications such as 5/6G wireless communication systems, high-resolution radar systems, artificial intelligence, computer vision, and image/video processing.

The rapid expansion of wireless networks, the Internet of Things, and cloud-based services has presented significant challenges in the underlying radio frequency systems. Microwave photonics (MWP) technology, which leverages optical components for microwave signal generation, transmission, and manipulation, offers promising solutions to address these challenges. However, integrated MWP systems have struggled to achieve ultra-high-speed analog signal processing with chip-scale integration, high fidelity, and low power consumption.

“To tackle these challenges, our research team developed an integrated MWP system that combines ultrafast electro-optic conversion with low-loss, multifunctional signal processing on a single chip, marking a significant technological breakthrough,” explained Professor Wang. The key to this exceptional performance lies in an integrated MWP processing engine based on a thin-film lithium niobate (LN) platform, capable of executing diverse processing and computation tasks for analog signals with high speed and accuracy.

The newly developed chip can facilitate high-speed analog computation with ultrabroad processing bandwidths of up to 67 GHz, while ensuring excellent computation accuracies. Feng Hanke, a Ph.D. student of EE and the first author of the paper, highlighted the remarkable capabilities of the chip in enabling advanced signal processing tasks. The team’s dedication to researching the integrated LN photonic platform over several years has culminated in this groundbreaking achievement.

The work of Professor Wang Cheng and his team represents a significant milestone in the field of microwave photonics, introducing a new era of LN microwave photonics. By enabling the development of compact-sized microwave photonics chips with high signal fidelity and low latency, this research paves the way for the future of analog electronic processing and computing on a chip-scale level. The potential applications of this technology are vast, ranging from next-generation wireless communication systems to advanced radar systems and artificial intelligence platforms.


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