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Eindhoven startup lands 'pre-seed' fund for PIC-based data centers

12 Sep 2023

Dutch consortium including PhotonDelta backs Astrape Networks to develop much more energy-efficient data centers.

Astrape Networks, a startup in Eindhoven’s “Brainport” high-technology campus in the Netherlands, has secured early-stage funding to push forward the use of photonic integrated circuits (PICs) for more efficient data centers.

Said to exploit some unique integrated photonics technology, the firm attracted €1.6 million from a consortium including Brabantse Ontwikkelings Maatschappij (BOM), Rabobank, Brabant Startup Fonds, TTT Smart Industries, Shift Invest, and PhotonDelta.

“The investment means that Astrape can begin to develop the technology needed to drive the data centers and optical networks of the future, specifically the use of PICs to build faster, cooler and more energy efficient data centers,” announced PhotonDelta.

The organization describes itself as a PIC-focused ecosystem, and last year secured upwards of €1 billion in public and private investment intended to scale up PIC production, support startups, and develop applications.

Other firms in the PhotonDelta portfolio include the indium phosphide foundry Smart Photonics, Germany-based chip-scale lidar firm Scantinel Photonics, PIC manufacturer LioniX International, and photonic quantum computer developer QuiX Quantum.

Energy efficiency
PhotonDelta stresses the global need for data centers to keep pace with ever-increasing consumer demand for traffic, as well as the financial and environmental cost of doing so - with energy efficiency seen as critical to enabling future growth.

“Existing data networks convert electronic signals into optical signals and back again, multiple times,” it explains. “Switching between electrical and optical signals consumes large amounts of energy.”

What Astrape intends to do is eliminate the need for multiple electrical-optical conversions by only converting to an optical signal once.

According to the firm, that would cut the energy requirements of existing links by around 20 per cent, and as much as 60 per cent for future, faster data centers.

"At Astrape we want to reduce the impact data centers have on our planet, while also enabling their exponential evolution," it says. "By using photonics, Astrape builds networks for data centers that are faster, cooler, and more power-efficient than anything before."

On its web site, Astrape explains that its solution uses multi-wavelength channels and advanced signaling control to transmit data through fast circuit switching:

"Our approach is novel and allows for data to be only converted into optical signals at the edges of the network. This eliminates the need for the intermediate optical/electrical/optical conversions at the I/Os of contemporary switches."

Its CEO, Francesco Pessolano - who is also “Entrepreneur in Residence” at Eindhoven University of Technology - commented:

“With the first investment, we will be able to demonstrate the technology in a relevant environment, taking it from laboratory scale to engineering scale. This will show that the technology is viable and keeps its performance and power saving promises in an industrial setting.

“The investment is key for building a strong core engineering team in networking and photonics that will enable us to develop further towards our first product.”

PIC use-cases
Said to be the result of years of research and development at Eindhoven, Astrape’s technology development will be guided by CTO and co-founder Willem Jan Withagen, and chief architect Nicola Calabretta, an associate professor in Eindhoven’s Electro-Optical Communication research group.

PhotonDelta’s CFO, Laurens Weers, added: “This investment is an important endorsement for the photonics venture building program set up by HighTechXL and PhotonDelta.

“The joint program enables startups working with integrated photonics - such as Astrape Networks - to get off the ground, create new use-cases for the technology and strengthen the Netherlands’ position as a world leader in integrated photonics.”

Astrape representatives will be taking part in the forthcoming TechCrunch Disrupt 2023 event in San Francisco, and the ECOC Exhibition 2023, which is taking place in Glasgow 2-4 October.

Berkeley Nucleonics CorporationLASEROPTIK GmbHSPECTROGON ABLaCroix Precision OpticsHyperion OpticsFirst Light ImagingMad City Labs, Inc.
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