Cambridge University spin-out Optalysys has been awarded a $350k grant for a 13-month project from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The project will see the company advance their research in developing and applying their optical co-processing technology to solving complex mathematical equations. These equations are relevant to large-scale scientific and engineering simulations such as weather prediction and aerodynamics.
The Optalysys technology is extremely energy efficient, using light rather than electricity to perform intensive mathematical calculations. The company aims to provide existing computer systems with massively boosted processing capabilities, with the aim to eventually reach exaFLOP rates (a billion billion calculations per second). The technology operates at a fraction of the energy cost of conventional high-performance computers (HPCs) and has the potential to operate at orders of magnitude faster.
The project’s goal is to lay the groundwork for producing optical processing systems that are capable of high-end tasks used in computational fluid dynamic simulation models such as Direct Numerical Simulation and Large Eddy Simulation.
The Optalysys technology is currently developed to Technology Readiness Level 5 (TRL5), and is being developed for use primarily in the field of genetic sequencing, as part of a UK government funded project in collaboration with The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) in Norwich, UK.
Dr Nick New, CEO and Founder of Optalysys said:
“We are reaching the limits of what traditional silicon-based processors can deliver. Moore’s Law is breaking down and traditional computing methods are approaching their limits in terms of cost and capability. The Optalysys technology is built on the well established principals of Fourier and Diffractive optics but we use them in combination with advanced high resolution microdisplays. We are creating a cost-effective solution that can be scaled beyond the levels of traditional electrical computers and can be integrated with existing desktop and HPC architectures.
We are developing the technology specifically to help speed up research and analysis for organisations that are trying to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems so having the chance to work with DARPA in this way is an exciting step forward for us.”
 Direct Numerical Simulation (DNS) is a method used in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), the process of modelling real-world fluid in a computer (weather forecasting, aerodynamics, flame propagation, nuclear chain reactions etc.) DNS is the most accurate of the CFD methods and is also the most computationally intensive, significantly constrained by existing electronic processing limitations.
 Large Eddy Simulation (LES) is the simulation of turbulent flows by numerically solving the Navier–Stokes equations. Direct Numerical Simulation (DNS) is more accurate but is computationally expensive and currently prohibitive for practical problems. The main idea behind LES is to reduce this computational cost by making compromises.
Optalysys was founded in 2013. CEO Dr Nick New, a renowned world expert in optical pattern recognition, developed the forerunner to the Optalysys technology whilst carrying out his PhD on optical pattern recognition at Cambridge University. Dr New went on to forge relationships with international academic and commercial institutions before securing funding to take Optalysys forward.
The Optalysys team includes specialists in software development, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), free-space optics, optical engineering and production engineering.
The company has several patents covering its groundbreaking technology.
About DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency):
For more than fifty years, DARPA has held to a singular and enduring mission: to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security.
The genesis of that mission and of DARPA itself dates to the launch of Sputnik in 1957, and a commitment by the United States that, from that time forward, it would be the initiator and not the victim of strategic technological surprises. Working with innovators inside and outside of government, DARPA has repeatedly delivered on that mission, transforming revolutionary concepts and even seeming impossibilities into practical capabilities. The ultimate results have included not only game-changing military capabilities such as precision weapons and stealth technology, but also such icons of modern civilian society such as the Internet, automated voice recognition and language translation, and Global Positioning System receivers small enough to embed in myriad consumer devices.
Find out more at http://www.darpa.mil/about-us/about-darpa