A Triumph of Innovation: the Prosperity Partnership between Rockley Photonics and the ORC
In 2017, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) launched the Prosperity Partnership programme, an initiative aimed at fostering collaboration between academia and industry. Among the pioneering partnerships that emerged from this initiative was the partnership between the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) and Rockley Photonics.
The Prosperity Partnership strengthened the existing bond between the ORC and Rockley Photonics. Andrew Rickman, CEO of Rockley Photonics, was the first-ever PhD student of Professor Graham Reed, Director of the ORC. This shared history laid the foundation for a collaborative journey that began in 2013 when Rockley Photonics was first established. Initially focused on advancing data centre communications, the company sought to harness the ORC’s expertise in modulators and communications.
After securing funding in the inaugural round of the Prosperity Partnership scheme, the primary goal of the project was to elevate the speed and energy efficiency of data centres by revolutionising their architecture, as well as investigating novel sensor applications. Three strategic work packages were identified, each targeting different levels of risk and addressing diverse aspects of the project.
Graham elaborated on the vision of the project, stating: “Internet traffic, traditionally managed through electronic means, is progressively shifting towards optical solutions. Silicon, recognised for its cost-effectiveness and efficiency as an optical material, held the key to enhancing internet speed and reducing power consumption. This partnership demonstrated new understanding of Silicon Photonics modulators and the ways in which data centre communications can be more efficient.”
Later into the programme, Rockley Photonics redirected its focus from data centre communications to healthcare. Their aim was to enhance the flexibility of their silicon photonics platform for a multitude of applications.
Upon the conclusion of the programme, the collaborative effort between the ORC and Rockley Photonics emerged as the top-ranking project. The collaboration resulted in significant technological success, marked by the filing of seven patent families. Novel Si modulator technologies were developed having differentiating processes and designs compared to other commercial modulators, together with co-design of electronics. World-leading performance was demonstrated at the end of the project, proving the technology to be highly valuable for commercialization.
The partnership between the ORC and Rockley Photonics in the first-ever round of Prosperity Partnership grants stands as a testament to the power of collaborative innovation.