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This year could mark a turning point for the integrated photonics industry, as we start to see more photonic and electronic circuits in mainstream applications. Photonics has long been studied in academia and in R&D teams and eventually explored mainly for fiber communications systems. However, the technology is now being evaluated for a wide range of additional applications, such as antenna and RF systems, bio-photonics, and environmental sensing systems.
What has changed? In addition to the introduction of generic fabrication technologies, a major development is the emergence of tool flows that are familiar to electronics designers, but that also provide capabilities that support the integration of photonic circuits and components into their electronic counterparts. For example, Cadence has worked with PhoeniX Software and Lumerical Solutions to develop a new electronic/photonic design automation (EPDA) environment for hybrid photonic ICs (a 3D-IC stack with a traditional electronics chip on top of a photonics chip) and monolithic photonic ICs (a single chip carrying both traditional electronics and photonics, or a pure photonic IC).
“These are exciting times for photonics,” says Twan Korthorst, CEO of PhoeniX Software. “We’re on the edge of transitioning to using more photonics in traditional semiconductors.”
PhoeniX Software’s part of the EPDA flow is its OptoDesigner photonic chip design suite, which is integrated into Cadence’s Virtuoso custom design platform. The company will demo its technologies this week at the Optical Fiber Communication (OFC) Conference in Anaheim, Calif. Also at OFC, Cadence Distinguished Engineer Gilles Lamant, who has been collaborating with PhoeniX Software and Lumerical Solutions, will speak on “The Vision of the Virtuoso Platform-based Design Flow for Electronic/Photonic ICs” at noon on Wednesday.
Addressing Curvilinear Shapes
Photonic IC (PIC) design has unique challenges in layout, error checking, circuit modeling, and other areas. One of the biggest challenges stems from the circuits’ curvilinear shapes. With the EPDA flow, users, tapping into the familiar Virtuoso GUI, can more easily design these curvilinear shapes. Under the hood, the OptoDesigner engine does the work, creating and connecting the shapes.
In Korthorst’s view, there are a lot of similarities in high-speed analog and photonic design. Both require many components that are tailored to the technology and the particular end application. As a result, layouts need to be customized. Korthorst’s vision is for PhoeniX Software’s technology to provide:
These capabilities will be part of PhoeniX Software’s demos in booth 1362 at OFC Conference.
Long History in Photonics
PhoeniX Software has a long history in integrated photonics design solutions, originally starting out in 1991. Weathering the ups and downs of the market and the global economy, PhoeniX Software is starting to see its persistence in promoting photonics yield results. After the dotcom crisis of 2001/2002, a lot of investment in photonics dried up and, with this, related engineering talent. However, around 2008, R&D activities picked up again, resulting in the growth of the number of photonics designers as customers of PhoeniX Software. Since 2012/2013, the EDA industry began to recognize the opportunities in silicon photonics, said Korthorst. That’s when PhoeniX Software began engaging with Cadence via Lamant, the Cadence Distinguished Engineer. Eventually, PhoeniX Software became a Cadence Connections member and its engineers began working with Cadence’s engineers to integrate OptoDesigner with the Virtuoso platform.
“We believe that photonics will become a relevant part of semiconductor product development and manufacturing, and we believe Cadence and Virtuoso are well positioned to assist today’s electronic designers to start exploring and developing photonic ICs,” said Korthorst.
The Future of Photonics
What might the photonics market look like in the next five years? In Korthorst’s view, more complex circuits will drive a need for more automation. Another challenge for the industry is to address the lack of connectivity in waveguides, which currently requires reprogramming in SKILL or a lot of manual effort in layout to make small changes. Design for manufacturability (DFM) is yet another area that requires unique considerations to accommodate photonics: a new understanding of process variations, as well as new simulation methodologies and layout implementations will be needed, Korthorst noted.
There’s a lot of trial and error to address some of the design challenges around PICs. This is where flows like the EPDA environment can help. “Way more application areas are actively researching and developing projects making use of photonic integrated circuits,” said Korthorst. “With the EPDA flow, we want to serve all of these technologies and applications.”
Q&A: Distinguished Engineer Gilles Lamant on Why Photonics is Going Mainstream
White Paper: Addressing the Challenges of Photonic IC Design Via an Integrated Electronic/Photonic Design Automation Environment