August 2018 Newsletter

Welcome to the August 2018 Newsletter – your regular update on the latest developments in optical computing. In this edition we cover that we successfully implemented the world’s first convolutional neural network (CNN) using optical processing - Presenting our technology at the Artificial Intelligence conference COGX in London.

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China’s Xinhua Tech interviews Optalysys CEO, Dr Nick New.

Read Xinhua Tech Interview

Please note this interview is in Chinese.


See below translation provided by Optalysys

Optalysys Optical Computing Solutions will Illuminate the Future of Artificial Intelligence

Xinhua Tech
24th July 2018


If there is one factor in modern society that defines the progress of all countries in the world; then it is their world ranking in science and technology. When it comes to the hottest technology of the moment, artificial intelligence is definitely the most disruptive technology of the century. In recent years, artificial intelligence has become closer to our lives. Voice assistants, face recognition, intelligent transportation, autonomous vehicles, etc. all show the existence and power of artificial intelligence. However, as the amount of global data continues to increase, processing power of computers lags behind. High-performance computing and energy consumption have become the biggest bottlenecks for artificial intelligence.

Founded in 2013, Optalysys is a start-up from Cambridge University and the first company in the world to develop optical computing and obtain patent certification. Optalysys' optical co-processors have implemented an image-based deep learning model, known as Convolutional Neural Networks. These operations are currently performed serially by electronic processors and use multiple Tensor Cores for low resolution operation. Optalysys' optical technology enables these operations to be performed in parallel at the speed of light, increasing the speed of both training and running these networks. This is an excellent solution for applications that require high-speed processing of large amounts of image data, including autonomous driving, medical image analysis, and security systems. So far, even the fastest electronic processors can't do this.

Nick New, founder and CEO of Optalysys, said: "The field of artificial intelligence has grown rapidly in recent years, and the biggest challenge is how to efficiently improve data processing capabilities to meet the needs of various industries. China is in a leading position in the field of artifical intelligence technology, and this technology is widely used in people's lives. However, in order for artificial intelligence to reach its full potential, there need to be major innovations in the processing technology currently used. Traditional silicon technology processing tasks are faced with both processing speed and energy consumption challenges. Therefore, the optical artificial intelligence solution provided by Optalysys has become the best solution to get rid of this dilemma."

Nick New continues: "The image-based deep learning model is extremely computationally demanding. We use optical processing technology instead of electronic processing technology. By combining the most advanced liquid crystal microdisplays available today with the huge parallel processing power of light, Optalysys' technology provides game changing processing power at a fraction of the power of electronic processing technology. In this way, we can produce low-power optical processors and can be applied to many fields. This technology is extremely scalable. Our first optical co-processor system offers more processing power than a top-of-the-line graphics card, and consumes only a quarter of the power. Our next system will be more than 300 times faster, and this is just the beginning."

Like many startups, Optalysys encountered many challenges at the beginning of its creation. At present, the field of artificial intelligence still relies on electronic technology. For the disruptive technology provided by Optalysys, it is necessary to change the way people think. Optalysys is focused on providing seamless connectivity to optical processors, which enables developers to easily adapt their code to run on the systems. Nick New said: "The ease of use of the product is of key importance to professionals in the entire industry."

China is the largest application market for optical computing and one of the most important markets for Optalysys. Currently, Optalysys is negotiating with a number of Chinese investment companies and technology companies to establish a strategic partnership to enable products to be produced in China and quickly placed on the market. When talking about the outlook for the Chinese market, Nick New said: "Our goal is to enable our technology to benefit cloud systems, server systems, local servers and mobile/embedded systems. We see China as a key part of our future.”

Major AI breakthrough by Optalysys demonstrating how its Patented Optical Processing Technology performs Deep Learning at the Speed of Light

YORKSHIRE, U.K.– 19th March, 2018—Optalysys Ltd. (@Optalysys), an innovative technology company commercialising light-speed optical coprocessors for AI/Deep Learning today announced they had successfully built the world’s first implementation of a Convolutional Neural Network using their Optical Processing Technology.

Convolutional Neural Networks, or CNNs, is a rapidly expanding area of Machine Learning Image Recognition and Analysis, used in  pivotal applications such as Autonomous Vehicles, Weather Forecasting and Medical Image Analysis.  These models are computationally extremely intensive, particularly for complex models, where there can be many convolutional “layers” to process.  

The use of CNNs has advanced in recent years largely through the advancement of graphics processors. However, even though these offer considerable advantages over conventional processors, they are limited by the breakdown of Moore’s Law, and the high energy costs which can run into several millions of dollars for top-end supercomputers.

Optalysys’s optical processing technology brings major adavantages by using a fundamentally different approach with energy efficient laser light rather than silicon as the processing medium.  This  delivers speed improvements of several orders of magnitude over conventional computing at a fraction of the energy consumption.

“This is a hugely significant leap forward for the field of AI and clearly demonstrates the global potential for our Enabling Technology.” said Dr. Nick New, founder and CEO of Optalysys. “Optalysys has for the first time ever, applied optical processing to the highly complex and computationally demanding area of CNNs with initial accuracy rates of over 70%.   Through our uniquely scalable and highly efficient optical approach, we are developing models that will offer whole new levels of capability, not only cloud-based but also opening up the extraordinary potential of CNNs to mobile systems.”  

The demonstration successfully shows the Optalysys Optical Processing Technology processing a CNN, using the popular MNIST data set of hand-drawn numerals, which contains 60,000 training characters and 10,000 testing characters.


Optalysys is developing Optical Computing Platforms, which enable a quantum leap into new levels of processing capability. Delivered at a fraction of the cost with a vastly reduced energy consumption compared with conventional computers. Its first coprocessor is based on an established diffractive optical approach that uses the photons of low-power laser light instead of conventional electricity and its elctrons. This inherently parallel technology is highly scalable and is the new paradigm of computing.


Press Contacts:

Emma Blaylock

Optalysys Ltd

+44 1977 551615


February 2018 Newsletter

Welcome to the February 2018 Newsletter – your regular update on the latest developments in optical computing. In this edition we cover the successful completion of the genetic sequence alignment project in collaboration with the Earlham Institute, the announcement of the Beta Programme launch - a cloud system running Optalysys technology for a closed group of Beta testers and the formation of the Optalysys Scientific Advisory Board.

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Optalysys and The Earlham Institute Achieve Over 90% Energy Savings in Breakthrough Project Applying Optical Processing for DNA Sequence Alignment

UK Science and Industry collaboration successfully shows optical processing technology performing genetic sequence alignment significantly reducing HPC power consumption

GLASSHOUGHTON, WEST YORKSHIRE, U.K. and NORWICH, U.K.– 12th February, 2018—Optalysys Ltd. (@Optalysys), a start-up commercialising light-speed optical coprocessors for AI/deep learning, and world-leading genomic research institute The Earlham Institute, EI, (@EarlhamInst), today announced the successful completion of the Genetic Search System (GENESYS) project. The GENESYS project, which was granted £0.5m in funding from Innovate UK, applied Optalysys’s unique optical processing technology to perform large-scale DNA sequence alignment. 

The collaboration set out to provide a scalable, energy-efficient solution to this challenging high-performance computing (HPC) task. The benchmark case study for the project aligned metagenomic reads sequenced from the Human Microbiome Project Mock Community (a well characterised microbial community) against a database consisting of 20 bacterial genomes totalling 64 million base pairs.  The optical system exceeded the original targets delivering a 90 percent energy efficiency saving compared to the same test run on EI’s HPC cluster, with an accuracy comparable to the highly sensitive nucleotide form of BLAST, BLASTn (part of a family of Basic Local Alignment Search Tools used to compare query sequences with a library or database of sequences).

The project results also revealed the technology holds significant promise for long-read sequence alignment, where speed improvements of several orders of magnitude over conventional software algorithms are possible – as well as in Deep Learning, specifically convolutional neural networks (CNNs).  

The technology resulting from this project is launching in February 2018 as a cloud-based platform to a closed beta program of a select group of genomic institutes including EI (UK), the University of Manchester (UK), the University of York (UK), Oregon State University (USA), and Zealquest Scientific Technology Co.,Ltd in cooperation with the Shanghai Bioinformatics Center, Chinese Academy of Science.

“The collaboration with EI has been a great success,” said Dr. Nick New, founder and CEO of Optalysys. “We have demonstrated the technology at several international conferences including Advances in Genome Biology and Technology, Plant and Animal Genome Conference and Genome 10K/Genome Science, to an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. We are looking forward to continuing our strong relationship with EI through the beta program and beyond.” 

“Genomic institutes are being faced with analysing more and more data, and it is really exciting that new technologies like the Optalysys optical processing platform can support bioinformaticians processing data accurately, at a low cost and at high speeds,“ said Dr. Daniel Mapleson, analysis pipelines project leader at EI who was the EI lead for the genomics tests during the project. 

Jon Mitchener, innovation lead for emerging technologies, Innovate UK, said, “GENESYS is a project that not only exemplifies the R&D done (combining novel optical HPC and deep learning AI techniques with a really important health-screening application), but also the way that support from Innovate UK can help accelerate the move from a prototype towards commercial product launch for a high-potential British SME like Optalysys.” 


Optalysys is developing optical computing platforms that will unlock new levels of processing capability at a fraction of the cost and energy consumption of conventional computers. Its first coprocessor is based on an established diffractive optical approach that uses low-power laser light in place of electricity. This inherently parallel method is highly scalable and will provide a new paradigm of computing.


The Earlham Institute is a research institute focused on exploring living systems by applying computational science and biotechnology to answer ambitious biological questions and generate enabling resources.

EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation. 

EI offers a state-of-the-art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. 

Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities.

About Innovate UK

Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency. Innovate UK drives productivity and growth by supporting businesses to realise the potential of new technologies, develop ideas and make them a commercial success. For further information and to stay updated on our latest news visit, follow us on Twitter at @innovateuk or subscribe to our YouTube channel at


Press Contacts:

Emma Blaylock

Optalysys Ltd

+44 1977 551615


Stuart Catchpole

The Earlham Institute

+44 1603 450813