$100m facility to advance fibre optics research for manufacturing, broadband uses

SINGAPORE - Fancy being able to print a commercial aircraft or surf the Web at actual speeds of 100Gbps, more than 100 times faster than current speeds? These ground-breaking possibilities could come out of research labs in Singapore in just years from now.

Today, the nation unveiled its first $100 million Photonics Institute, complete with high-tech machines to research and make the next-generation lasers and fibre-optic cables to enable these breakthroughs. With this facility, Singapore has joined the league of global nations which have such advanced research capabilities, including the United States and Britain.

One of the new research fields is in hollow fibre-optic cables and better compression and transmission technologies to allow for faster Web surfing. Current fibre optic cables - as thin as a strand of hair - that power corporate and consumer broadband uses are not hollow.

Another area of research is advanced 3D laser printers that print stronger and more well-defined models. For instance, the goal is to print parts of an aircraft or car that can be fitted together without additional work such as sanding and polishing.

"Asean's rising affluence will increase regional demand for consumer devices, cars," said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, adding that this will in turn drive the need for laser-aided manufacturing.

Mr Teo said Singapore aims to train 120 post-graduates in photonics specialisations over the next five years. He was speaking yesterday at the launch of the Photonics Institute.

The funding, expected to last three to five years, came from several statutory boards and government ministries. They are the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), DSO National Laboratories, the Economic Development Board Singapore, the Ministry of Education and the National Research Foundation.

With 4,000 sq m of floor space split among three schools in NTU, the facility has 120 scientists, researchers and doctoral students. The centre will work with Britain's Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton, whose director Professor Sir David Payne is also a co-director of the local facility.