An ambitious technological collaboration in the telecommunications sector
March 9, 2015 – Michaël Ménard and Frédéric Nabki, professors in the Computer Science Department of the Faculty of Science at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), and their partner Aeponyx are launching a project that addresses the challenges posed by telecommunications network congestion. Caused by an increase in the number of users of the Internet and wireless telephony and in the amount of information they generate, this problem requires innovative, economical solutions.
The proliferation of intelligent mobile devices and the increase in services offered on the Internet, such as video on demand, are factors that contribute to the exponential growth of data on the optical networks supporting the Internet telecommunications infrastructure. The implementation of these new services has led to the creation of mega data centres, which can house thousands of computers to process, store and distribute large quantities of information. Connecting all these computers effectively to respond to the requests of the multitude of Web users is a strategic challenge that must be solved in order to ensure the growth of the digital economy.
The opto-mechanical circuits developed jointly by UQAM and Aeponyx (a company in the field of fibre-optical data transmission in the telecommunications sector) aim at fulfilling the growing needs of theInformation and communications technology (ICT) industry, including the creation of novel infrastructures adapted to the expanding use of the Web.
The innovation in this research project lies in the miniaturization of telecommunications components, achieved by integrating silicon photonics – a technique to fabricate integrated optical devices – and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).
According to Caroline Roger, Director of UQAM’s partnership and innovation service, (SePSI), «In addition to featuring microelectronics, one of UQAM’s strong suits, this project enables our team to collaborate with young professors, a dynamic new generation in our Faculty of Science, while contributing to the training of promising students».
The project is funded by Aeponyx to the tune of $1 million, and by the partnership program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which is investing $568,000. During the negotiation stage of the research agreement, researchers at UQAM and Aeponyx benefited from the help of SePSI and Aligo Innovation, a company that develops and promotes UQAM’s intellectual property assets.
A fruitful collaboration
In the fall of 2013, UQAM researchers and Aeponyx engineers began working together on the protection of intellectual property and the demonstration of proof of concepts, and have now arrived at a comprehensive three-year global agreement on research and technological development. In addition, Aligo Innovation granted Aeponyx an exclusive worldwide, unrestricted use licence in the telecommunications market, for the production and marketing of a technology entitled «Microfabrication Platform for Guided-wave Optics and Microelectromechanical Systems Integration».
Aeponyx President Philippe Babin sees this as «an important, innovative technological project, the result of an exemplary, government-supported collaboration between industry and the academic research community».
The technology was developed by professors Michaël Ménard and Frédéric Nabki, founders of the microtechnology and microsystems laboratory at UQAM (Micro²). Professor Ménard, a member of the Centre for Optics, Photonics and Lasers (COPL), is recognized internationally as an expert on silicon photonics. Professor Nabki is a specialist in microfabrication, MEMS and integrated circuits for high levels of miniaturization. The Micro2 is part of NanoQAM (Centre de recherche sur les nanomatériaux et l’énergie) and CoFaMic (Centre de recherche sur la conception et la fabrication de microsystèmes), an arm of ReSMiQ (Regroupement Stratégique en Microsystèmes du Québec). In addition to a thorough knowledge of microfabrication processes, the leaders of Micro² have extensive experience in the design and characterization of electronic, optical and mechanical systems on chip.
«We believe strongly in the potential of this technology developed by UQAM, given the evolution of the telecommunications market», states Richard Romagnino, Director of Business Development at Aligo Innovation.
Innovative advances and expected spin-offs
Silicon photonics facilitates the miniaturization at the microscopic scale of optical structures in components that enable the processing and distribution of the flow of information across optical networks. MEMS enable the mechanical control of light diffusion in these optical microstructures. With the expected arrival of 5G, the combination of these two technologies, as proposed in this collaboration, is a significant innovation in the telecommunications field. It opens the door to a wide range of new, less expensive miniaturized components for optical networks, such as tuneable transceivers and optical switches, which can be used in the mega data centres currently under construction by industry giants such as Apple, Facebook and Amazon.
This project will enable the development of unique, innovative products that significantly reduce the implementation costs of optical networks, enhance their capabilities, and reduce their size. Ultimately, the benefits of this project will reduce the energy consumption of these networks, a key factor in greener networking. In short, the technological platform that will result from this collaboration has the potential to make Aeponyx the world leader in miniaturized optical components unique in their kind.
The mission of SePSI is to guide and support UQAM researchers through all the stages leading to a research partnership with the public or private sectors. SePSI assists partners interested in collaborating with UQAM researchers by targeting the appropriate expertise and establishing the initial contacts with potentially interested researchers.
About the Micro2 Laboratory
UQAM’s Micro2 Laboratory is dedicated to research on integrated systems that will be found in the advanced technologies of the future in several sectors of the economy, such as information and communication technologies, life sciences, transportation, and nanotechnologies.
NSERC is the main federal agency offering support to the science and engineering research community in Canada. It supports nearly 30,000 post-secondary students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by offering financial support to some 12,000 professors each year, and fosters innovation by working with more than 3,000 Canadian companies that participate and invest in postsecondary research projects.
About Aligo Innovation, L.P.
Aligo Innovation commercializes intellectual property assets of the following institutions: l’Ecole de technologie supérieure (ETS), Bishop’s University, Concordia University, Université de Sherbrooke, the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR), the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR), the Université du Québec en Abitibi Témiscamingue (UQAT), the Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) and McGill University, as well as their affiliated hospitals and research centres.