U of M creates device that could increase internet download speeds and save energy

The Opto-mechanical Relay: efficient, fast, no bigger than a human hair.
The Opto-mechanical Relay: efficient, fast, no bigger than a human hair.
Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota

A team of University of Minnesota scientists and engineers has invented a device that could significantly increase the speed of downloading information online.

Even more importantly, it could significantly reduce the amount of energy used for, and hence the cost of, internet transmission.

The microscale optical device the researchers nicknamed Opto-mechanical Relay uses force generated by laser light to flip a mechanical switch of light on and off at an extremely high speed.

"The internet is fast, but at the expense of a huge consumption of power," said Mo Li, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the U of M. "If you use metal wires, there's a lot of heat generated. But if you set the light over an optical fiber, there's no heat generated."

The entire device (pictured above) is tiny, and the ring portion measures in at one-tenth the diameter of a human hair.

The device is not stand-alone and is meant to be integrated into a computer. Li says that it will probably take the tech industry a couple years to develop it for the market.

The U of M research results were published this week in the online journal Nature Communications.

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