In the high-stakes race to build a faster and
more reliable telecommunications network, Lumera Corp. of Bothell
believes it has found the holy grail: polymers. Some big-name investors
seem to agree. Lumera -- formed in October through a partnership
between the University of Washington and Microvision -- yesterday
raised $24 million in a first round of capital financing led by
Cisco Systems. Unlike many of its competitors, Lumera is developing
optical equipment that uses organic polymers or plastics to help
send data over telecommunications networks at more than twice the
speeds currently available. In addition to higher speeds, Lumera's
polymer approach uses far less power than products currently made
by Lucent, JDS Uniphase and other makers of optical components that
rely on crystals, executives say.
"One of the challenges you have with crystalline materials
is that they are brittle so they are much more challenging to work
with than plastics are," said Rick Rutkowski, chief executive of
Microvision and acting president of Lumera. "Polymers give us two
things: One is ... a performance advantage with respect to being
able to achieve high data rates at low voltages, and the second
is they give us a cost advantage because they are easier to process
and we can get a higher yield."
He said the Lumera device will be able to move data at 40 gigabits
per second whereas devices currently being used operate at 2.5 gigabits
or 10 gigabits. Lumera plans to unveil its prototype device -- known
as an electro-optic modulator switch -- early this summer with full
commercialization slated for next year.
Potential customers include such networking companies as Cisco,
Nortel Networks and Corning.