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Cutting Edge - Plastic chips slash cable costs

MATERIALS

BOFFINS at a research centre in Germany have developed a data transfer system that could help slash the cost of fibreoptic cables.

They claimed new optical microchips, made from plastic, would help cut the cost of the cables and make installation easier and cheaper.

Although fibre optic systems can transport data quickly, they can be too expensive for individual connections or for networking machines, according to the research team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications in Berlin.

Standard fibre optics transmit light signals that get converted into electrical signals.

The components used to switch the information into electrical signals are manufactured using semiconducting compounds or ceramics, making them expensive.

The research team found that cheaper plastics could be used in their place if they were applied correctly.

The team, led by Wolfgang Schlaak, found that layering coats of liquid plastic on top of each other produced a material that had a light-conducting layer and a topcoat.

When exposed to light, minute circuit paths form in the light-conducting layer allowing the light to travel around bends. By connecting to lasers and photodiodes, the team discovered that elements capable of transmitting and receiving light can be produced.

These plastic components should make fibre optic connections more affordable, researchers claimed.

Mr Schlaak said: 'This system will allow us to use fibre optic systems in applications that have never before been viable.'