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11 February 2004

Optical switches primed for test debut

EE Times
Feb 09, 2004

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    COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. Continuum Photonics Inc., which has more than five years' experience combining microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) filters with beam-forming piezoelectric actuators, is packaging its optocomponent technology into three series of system-level products called DirectLight.

    The first DirectLight family, DirectLight IG (instrumentation grade), will be shown in test-equipment configurations at the upcoming Optical Fibers in Communications conference, in conjunction with partners Agilent Technologies Inc. and Analog Devices Inc.

    Later this year, Continuum ( will use different configurations of subsystems to target telecommunications manufacturing companies, as well as specialists in fiber distribution, production and storage. Designing a common platform for all three markets puts Continuum into a market similar to that of Glimmerglass Inc. and Calient Networks Inc.

    Aaron Bent, vice president of marketing and business development at Continuum (Billerica, Mass.), said that the company had long recognized the common need for a scaled optical switch in both prototype and research testing, and in volume-manufacturing testing. Continuum refers to the combined market as Optical Automation Systems, and it sees a $450 million addressable market for such equipment by 2008.

    Continuum's core technology combines a MEMS motion amplifier layer with a piezo element, resulting in an optical-switching element completely based on free-space optics, with no micromirrors. The switch elements are much more resilient and stiffer than micromirrors. They have typical insertion losses of less than 1.4 dB and a first resonant frequency well in excess of 1 kHz.

    The DirectLight IG test switches are available in initial configurations of 16 ports, a one-rack-unit system upgradeable to 32 ports; and a 64-port system, standing two rack units high and configured as 16, 32, 48 or 64 ports. The systems have a built-in variable optical attenuator and power meter. Current platforms have serial and Ethernet interfaces, with a GPIB hardware interface to be added later this year, as well as an HTML software interface.

    Bent said that typical optical switch systems devoted to test applications, from manufacturers such as JDS Uniphase and Dicom, are much larger and more expensive, though he added that Continuum will face new challenges from smaller platforms developed at Calient and Glimmerglass.

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