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Corning to unveil Gorilla Glass 3, consumer optical connectors at CES

Credit: Corning.

The annual International CES show is a geek-fest for electronics, and the trail to new electronics often leads back to materials innovations, and next week’s CES show should be no different.

One company that has tried to leverage its materials development strengths by maintaining a high visibility at CES is Corning. For the last few years, Corning has used the event to promote its line of glasses aimed at the consumer markets, particularly Gorilla Glass (versions 1&2), as well as its Willow and Lotus Glass products.

This pattern apparently will continue: Yesterday Corning announced that it would be using the CES to formally introduce to tech media and the public two new products: Gorilla Glass 3 and Thunderbolt-compatible optical cables.

I have some inside information on GG3 which I will be writing about in the next 24 hours. What I can say for now is that several websites, such as AppleInsider, are reporting, “[T]he material is three times more scratch resistant than the previous version thanks to ‘Native Damage Resistance’ technology. The company also claims that of the scratches that do occur on the glass, 40 percent fewer will be visible to the naked eye.” Engadget reports that GG3 while provide a “50 percent boost in retained strength after the glass becomes flawed.”

CNET has a story that quotes David Velasquez, Gorilla Glass’ director of marketing and commercial operations, who says no actual GG3-containing products will be demonstrated. The story also reports that Corning has provided samples for customers to test. Products, though, may come in a couple of months.

The Thunderbolt optical cable has to do with a two-channel, high-speed data transfer interconnect system developed by Intel around 2009. Thunderbolt, as I understand it, was originally designed as an optical interconnect, and, in fact, the overall system called “Light Peak,” a clear reference to the optical basis. However, discussion of this system quickly shifted away from an optical system, and a generation of Thunderbolt-compatible copper wire cables began to be offered for use with Apple’s most recent MacBook Pros and several data storage systems.

The copper wire systems are nothing to sniff about and speeds of 8-10Gps have been demonstrated. What might be possible with an all-optical system is unclear, but copper had one major strike against it right away: The cable length was limited to only a few feet. That creates a problem for product developers, who had also envisioned Thunderbolt/Light Peak as an HDMI like connector, or enabling an entire smart house.

But, apparently Intel never lost sight of the all-optical goal. A 2011 PC World story contained an interview with Dadi Perlmutter, general manager of Intel’s Architecture Group, who commented at the 2011 CES about the situation. According to the story

Optical technology is expensive and will be implemented over time as it gets cheaper, [Perlmutter] said.

For the majority of user needs today, copper is good, Perlmutter said. But data transmission is much faster over fiber optics, which will increasingly be used by vendors in Thunderbolt implementations.

An Intel spokesman in an email said that optical cabling for Thunderbolt will come later this year. Intel in the past has said that optical technology could help provide faster data transfers over longer distances than electrical technology.

But, as far as I know, the optical cables didn’t arrive in 2011 or 2012. Corning is going to remedy that and offer Thunderbolt cables in multiple lengths (e.g., 10, 20, 30 meters). Corning is not the only dog in this hunt, however. Sumitomo Electric announced at the end of December that its optical cable had been the first to be certified by Intel, but the company is not listed as an exhibitor at CES 2013.

I suspect that given the right Intel Thunderbolt/Light Peak hardware, the 10Gps data transfer rate can be exceeded because the connector cable will no longer be the limiting factor (think 100Gps).

Also, in the bigger scheme of things, Intel’s vision, at least in 2009, is to have Thunderbolt/Light Peak-enabled cable become the default universal connector standard.