New hair-like plastic polymer cable can transmit data ten times faster than copper
Scientists and engineers are always looking for ways to speed up and configure computing devices more efficiently to maximize data flow. There are many applications today that require the exchange of huge volumes of data in real time.
Scientists at MIT have created a hair-like plastic polymer cable that can transmit data ten times faster than copper USB cables. Scientists recently reported speeds on new cables exceeding 100 gigabits per second. The new fibers mimic the best characteristics of copper cable in that electronic signals can be routed directly from device to device.
Another interesting feature of polymer cables is that it is possible to measure the flow of electrons through each cable from the outside – which is not possible with fiber optic cables. This is a key function that can be used to direct the chip-level data flow in high-speed computing devices.
If brought to market, these cables will solve several problems in the computer industry. The new fibers mimic the best feature of copper wires as USB cables are easily compatible with computer chips and other network devices. A copper Ethernet cable can connect two devices directly without having to reformat the data. Fiber cables are much faster than copper, but require an intermediate device to convert light signals to electronic signals on each device.
There are immediate uses for faster cables in applications such as data centers, self-driving cars, manufacturing robots, and space devices. The new cables would be an advantage wherever large amounts of data need to be transferred in real time from one device to another. Since polymer fibers are thin, they could also be used to speed up data transfer between chips within devices.
Data transmission rates on polymer cables are currently 100 gigabits per second over a distance of about 30 centimeters. Scientists at MIT believe they will be able to boost speeds up to a terabit while increasing transmission distances to one meter and beyond.
There is a long way to go to bring new technology from the lab to production. First, industry standards would need to be developed and approved by the IEEE. Using new types of cables means changing the interface into peripherals and chips. There are also the challenges of mass-producing new cables and integrating them into the existing supply chain.
I am always amazed at how modern science always seems to find solutions when we need them. We are just starting to regularly use computer applications such as AI that rely on moving large amounts of data rapidly. Just ten years ago, no one would have talked about chips that required something close to 100 gigabits of input or output. It’s easy to assume that computer peripherals get faster when chips are made faster, but these new cables are a reminder that many components are needed to speed up computation. Fast chips aren’t good if we can’t pop data into and extract data quickly enough.