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The Inventivity Pod
Computer Components Connected by Light
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Computers and smartphones are about to get a lot faster. If Roger Tipton succeeds with his invention, light will replace copper wires as connectors of computer components. This will be like using fiberoptic cable to access the web instead of a dial-up modem. A recent arrival to the University of South Florida, Roger was inspired to invent during high school shop class in Cleveland.

 

TRANSCRIPT:

 

Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade a podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida, the museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We’ll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we’ll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work, and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Richard Miles:

Traveling at the speed of light, right from the comfort of your own keyboard. Is that the future of computing? I’m your host Richard Miles. My guest today is Roger Tipton, CEO of Path Optical Systems, which has developed optical interconnects to replace copper wires on computer chips. Welcome to Radio Cade, Roger.

Roger Tipton:

Hi, how are you?

Richard Miles:

Uh , so I’m going to start with a really basic question. What on earth is an optical interconnect? What does it do?

Roger Tipton:

What it does is it connects different components on a PCB board. So if you’ve got to get information from the processor to the hard drive or from memory or wherever that information has to travel, that’s an interconnect and most of them are copper interconnects at this point.

Richard Miles:

Okay. So if I could actually look at the chips, if I had the ability to do that, all those connections are being made by essentially tiny copper wires right now.

Roger Tipton:

Yeah. Yeah. And you can actually see it on the green PCB board. That’s inside the little copper traces running everywhere.

Richard Miles:

So your technology in place of those copper wires, it’s actually flashes of light?

Roger Tipton:

Yeah. That is actually how it works. And I think a good analogy of this is if you remember dial up internet that was on copper wires from your phone line, and they replaced that with fiber optic cables. And that is the exact same technology and some similar materials. And that just sped everything up that allowed Netflix and YouTube and videos and downloading and all the amazing things we have. And we’re bringing that same exact technology to your phone or your server or your laptop. And those are the kinds of speed increases that we will see on those devices with these new interconnects.

Richard Miles:

Roger tell me, is their a reason it hasn’t been done already? What was holding that back? Was there a technical or physical reason why? Because fiber optics has been around a while, right?

Roger Tipton:

Yeah. 30, 40 years. And really it’s 3D printing has allowed this new technology, 3D printing is opening up all kinds of opportunities and all kinds of new things. And I think we were the first to apply 3D printing to this challenge. And so I think that’s why we’re first.

Richard Miles:

So this will make computing faster, but by how much faster? And then is it a degree of magnitude that your average user is going to notice right away? Or is this just something that tech nerds are going to get excited about? But your average consumer is not going to really know?

Roger Tipton:

It is actually going to be a huge difference. We’re looking at like seven times faster. You can just get so much more information through these. And as we think of big data now, and we have smart cars. So if you can get data transferred faster from the sensor on your smart card and your Tesla to the computer, it can process that information faster and mean it’s safer and they take less power is another thing that is going to be a huge difference. They put server farms in the Arctic and underwater and things like that to keep them cool. And that’s because you have all this electrons moving on copper wires and generating heat. Well, that all goes away. So it’s not just going to be faster computers is going to be less power required, computers and less heat generated computers. There’s kind of a knock on of all different kinds of cool things.

Richard Miles:

I thought, I understood this but now I’m getting really excited about it. I mean, this sounds like one of those enabling technologies, right? S ort o f like the internal combustion engine a nd that it enabled all sorts of different sectors to do different things or better things or, o r faster things, b ecause this is coming along at the same time. And tell me, this is contingent upon something like a 5G network or the speed at which 5G gets introduced, doesn’t really a ffect this development or are they both related? How d oes that work?

Roger Tipton:

I think they’re complimentary. You have 5g. This is wireless between devices that are not connected. And then once it gets inside the device, we’re talking about the speed inside the device at it. So it just going to make things faster.

Richard Miles:

So our devices are faster and they use less power. Have you done any mind experiments in terms of the types of applications , what will people start doing with faster devices that don’t need as much battery power?

Roger Tipton:

This is, we look at your watch is a wearable device. And we look at all these healthcare applications where it’s about battery life. And if you have pacemakers inside your heart and you have to go in and change things, or you can maybe detach wearables from battery life issues, that’s a pretty awesome application.

Richard Miles:

Pretty exciting. So information technology is one of those industries t hat is pretty competitive. And usually when you have this breakthrough, like you described 3D printing, making all these things available, usually there’s some other person out there that has thought of something very similar. Tell me what the competitive landscape looks like, are there other people now starting to do this as well? And if so, what sort of advantage o f lead do you have over those o ther people.

Roger Tipton:

MIT and IBM actually built the world’s first, fully optical computer a few years ago and they didn’t have this 3D printing technology. And so they built this incredibly fast computer. I mean, it is just mind bogglingly fast, except it’s as big as a house. And it’s kind of that same computers in the fifties and sixties used to be huge and

Richard Miles:

So very capable, but not practical for a normal consumer or even a normal business.

Roger Tipton:

Right, right. Right. And they came back and said, okay, when the next bit of technology comes along, we’ll come back. And how do we shrink this and shrink this and shrink this. Uh , as far as I know, we are the first to do this and it’s kind of exciting and scary. And now that we’ve got our patent filed and we’ve built a functioning working prototype, we’re kind of coming to the market in the world. And that’s kind of exciting, about like the Cade Prize and things like that. We’re kind of publicizing all of a sudden what’s happening. We’re going to find out.

Richard Miles:

Good point and I neglected to congratulate you and your team for making it to the finals of the 2019 Cade Prize. So congratulations.

Roger Tipton:

Thank you, thank you.

Richard Miles:

We had a lot of very good entries this year and you’re sort of clearly one of the very best. Tell me about the company at this point. Who’s a member of it. What are your next steps? Are you, are you looking to stay the CEO? Were you looking for outside management? And then where are you in terms of investment?

Roger Tipton:

We formed a company last year, we fought our patent this year two co-founders at, at this point , uh, myself and Venkat Bhethanabotla. He is a professor at the University of South Florida. We’re at the functional prototype stage. And we’re actually looking at the end of the year to have prototype boards that are completely optical and ready to go to market and for testing and evaluation. So we’re kind of very early NASA has given us a little bit of money. We’ve generated some interest from , uh , Harris on a proposal. And Cisco Systems is kind of involved, other customer research lab is kind of involved with us and we made our first VC . We asked for no money. We just kind of pitched and said, okay, this is kind of what the technology looks like. And immediately the phone started ringing and the emails, and it’s been a bit crazy. It’s it’s early days. We think we’re six months away from actually going out and taking that next step. But it’s kind of awesome.

Richard Miles:

Tell me a little bit about your experience at firstference for the venture capitals. And the reason I ask is , uh, when we, when we started the Cade Prize few years ago, or actually 10 years ago now, and we started recruiting VCs as some of our judges, and we were always really surprised. We would read the application go, this is just wonderful. What a great technology, this is going to change the world. And this steely-eyed cold-hearted VCs would look at it and go, eh , and they tell you five problems with it and why it wasn’t really that big a deal. And how was it going to change the world? And I just remember thinking, like I would be crushed if I were the inventor and I had this guy telling me, you know, a woman telling me like, eh, it’s not that big a deal. And other people doing the same thing. What was that like? Was that terrifying? Was it inspirational?

Roger Tipton:

Yeah, it was at the early stage Florida ventures forum in Orlando just two weeks ago, I think now. And we had judges and I was up on stage and we made our pitch and the j udge was like, yeah. Okay. Or whatever. And then the moment I stepped off the stage, there was a VC standing there going, okay, we have to talk, we have to talk.

Richard Miles:

Well that’s generally a good sign that the VC is pursuing you rather than the other way around. So you cleared your first hurdle. That’s good.

Roger Tipton:

Yeah. Uh , I didn’t ask for any money. I think that kind of threw people off too . That kind of made me a bit of a challenge. I think that was kind of interesting for them that they asked me, well, how much money do you want? I said, well, nothing. We don’t need it yet. And they’re like, Oh wow, now.

Richard Miles:

You described for me , the patent arrangements and the, your initial steps, is this something that you envision staying on a CEO? Because a lot of times the, the model is the original founder and venture. We’ll get it going. And then they’ll bring in other management and they keep doing other research or stay in technical capacity. Is that something you see yourself doing for the midterm or longterm ?

Roger Tipton:

We’ve got an interesting product, an interesting bit of technology. And I think it’s going to take a lot of resources and a lot of talent, and I want to do what’s best for the technology to get it out there. And that’s probably bringing in a professional management team and money and the things to do it right. I’m excited, and I want to do my part, but we need the pro’s I think.

Richard Miles:

Right. Well, you’re already ahead of a lot of inventors because we see a lot of types of vendors and the ones that generally have the most difficulty are the ones that they thought of this beautiful idea. And they are in love with their beautiful idea and they cannot let it go. Roger, tell me a little bit about your background. I know you live in Wesley Chapel now just North of Tampa, but are you from Florida? Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?

Roger Tipton:

I’m from Ohio and I started off in small town. Went to Ohio state, started working in Cleveland and just eventually the weather just took it out in and like a lot of people up north,

Richard Miles:

It’s amazing how many people come to Florida for the weather. So,

Roger Tipton:

Oh no , that’s fantastic. So , uh, I had relocated down here about four years ago. At the same time I came back and started working on my PhD at the University of South Florida. And that’s been the , the launch pad for this stuff we created in the lab there .

Richard Miles:

Uh , Roger, what were you like as a kid? Were you a really good student in school, top of the class and science and math, or?

Roger Tipton:

I was the kid that was out playing and sports an outside all day long. And I had a great professor in high school. It was CAD and shop class where we designed things and made them,

Richard Miles:

And this is in high school?

:

This is in high school and that’s kind of where it kicked off. I hate to say it’s that shop class guy that was making stuff. And that kind of was the Genesis of some of this engineering that I went on to become a material science and engineer at Ohio state, and then Honda and rubber made little Tikes professionally, and eventually ended up back in school, down here. And,

Richard Miles:

Did you ever tell that teacher that they were sort of an inspiration? You know, this is , this is the one thing teachers would love to hear, right? Somebody comes back 20 years later and go it’s all because of you.

Roger Tipton:

I need to do that. I absolutely need to do that. That is fantastic. I didn’t think of that until we just started talking about it here, but yeah .

Richard Miles:

And what about the entrepreneurial side? I mean, were you the first kid on the block with lemonade stand or did you ever have any interest in business until the development of this ticket?

Roger Tipton:

I’m actually a bit of a, an entrepreneur. I’ve had three companies before this. I kind of fell into being an entrepreneur. Um, company was closed and went to China and it was like, okay, I can do something on my own and not get laid off and fired because,

Richard Miles:

This was an Ohio company?

Roger Tipton:

Right, I’ve had three companies. Uh, I sold one down here to a local company, you know, I’ve had two fail. So that’s kind of gives me a good perspective on it’s okay to fail and try and learn and do better next time and that kind of stuff.

Richard Miles:

Right. Does this run in the family, did either of your parents, were they either in the business world or in the, in the science world at all ? Or what did they do for living?

Roger Tipton:

My mother is a bit of an inspiration. The fact that she went to nursing school in her forties, she went back and she wasn’t afraid to change and do something new and different. And I think part of my entrepreneur spirits from, you know, it’s never too late or too big of a challenge, you just go and try and it’s alright.

Richard Miles:

Right . Interesting you say that, I’ve talked to number of entrepreneurs and often their parents were in the business world and sometimes one of the most inspirational examples, or certainly o nes t hat y ou remember n ow when their parents succeeded, but when their parents failed and how their parents dealt with that and came back from either business being shuttered or whatever. And that’s kind of like what you said this experience with failure is often much more formative and instructive than a success and going forward. Do you have other ideas that you can talk about on the horizon for other directions, other technologies that we need to get in on the ground floor? I guess you couldn’t tell me. Right? B ut b ecause we go off and patent them, right?

Roger Tipton:

Well , there you go . Uh, but yeah, I don’t think this is the end. I think this is just another exciting chapter.

Richard Miles:

Well, I already mentioned on another show recently that few days ago, one of our previous prize winners from 2013 coming in called Nanophotonics i s kind of three and a half million dollar investment from Samsung. So we’re hoping to see your company do well. And hopefully in less than seven years, i t took them a while, but they’re doing quite well. But that has often happened with the companies that we see take part in the Cade Prize a t that the quality of the idea is really good. It’s not immediately rewarded often, but after a few years they get some traction. Roger, again, congratulations on making the C ade Prize final four a nd wish you the best o f l uck.

Roger Tipton:

It’s exciting. And thank you for the opportunity. I can’t wait to find out who the winner’s tonight.

Richard Miles:

Great, I’m Richard Miles.

Outro:

Radio Cade would like to thank the following people for their help and support Liz Gist of the Cade Museum for coordinating and vendor interviews . Bob McPeak of Heartwood Soundstage in downtown Gainesville, Florida for recording, editing and production of the podcasts and music theme, Tracy Collins for the composition and performance of the Radio Cade theme song, featuring violinist Jacob Lawson. And special thanks to the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida.

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