Single-Photon Techniques for Standard CMOS Digital ICs

The advent of single-photon detectors known as Single-Photon Avalanche Diodes in standard CMOS technology opened the way to new perspectives in integrating these ultra sensitive light sensors with digital logic. Light has some interesting properties that attracted researchers in computer and electronics for a long time. Its weightlessness nature makes it a candidate to replace electrons when it didn't already do so. This is particularly true for long distance data transfers. However a new trend can be observed. Researchers are looking into photonics, the science of light, for short distance communications as well. Power efficiency is one of the reasons of this trend. In fact, photons, the elementary particles of light, don't suffer of resistive, capacitive, or inductive effects like electrons do. The wavelike nature of light can also free designers from problems such as cross-talk and side-channel noise injection while taking advantage of interference. However photonics is still not the panacea and we don't believe it will ever completely replace electronics. Most certainly a combination of the two will be adopted to take advantage of both worlds. CMOS digital Integrated Circuit (IC) design faces many challenges and it is not clear whether technology will still provide small footprints, high performance, and low power in the future. Photonics with SPADs can answer some of these questions. In this work, we present three investigations where SPAD photonics is integrated within digital CMOS technology. The main contributions of this thesis are threefold: single-photon CMOS communication paradigms, single-photon processing and readout techniques, single-photon clocking and synchronization methods. Single-photon communication was achieved using a combination of SPADs and ultra-fast TDCs in a pulse position modulation scheme. In this context, theoretical channel capacity limits in the presence of noise and other non-idealities typical of SPADs were derived; a TDC with a resolution of 17 ps was demonstrated in a standard FPGA fabric. To the best of our knowledge, at the time of this writing, this is the highest reported resolution for a TDC of this kind. Single-photon processing and readout was achieved in several technologies, focusing on image sensor design, whereby massive parallel architectures were studied and implemented in CMOS. Single-photon clocking and synchronization was demonstrated allowing potentially zero skew systems irrespective of the chip area. The power benefits of this approach in embedded systems with instruction set extensions are particularly interesting. The thesis makes use of SPAD technology implemented in CMOS for a number of applications creating a bridge between digital design and high performance photonics. We believe that this is the first attempt in this direction focused on CMOS technology.

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