Updated: 11/16/2019 by Computer Hope
Fiber optic

Optical or optical technology refers to anything relating to light or vision, whether it be visible light or infrared light, that performs a specific function. For example, optical fiber, like that shown to the right is a type of wire commonly made out of glass or plastic that carries light signals. These signals can be interpreted by a computer as data (binary) and is one example of how data can be transferred over a network.

Bottom of optical-mechanical and optical computer mouse

A computer mouse is an example of an optical device that uses optical technology. It uses a light-emitting diode and photodiodes to determine the direction a mouse is moving across a surface. This then allows the computer to move the mouse cursor across the computer screen in the appropriate direction. An optical mouse works best on an opaque surface, where it can detect the direction of movement. Surfaces like glass and a mirror are not viable surfaces to use an optical device on since movement cannot be detected. Newer optical mice use of a laser diode for increased resolution and movement precision.

Blu-ray laser

Optical storage devices use optical technology to save and retrieve data on discs, like a Blu-ray, CD (compact disc), DVD (digital versatile disc). The device uses a laser light to read information on the disc and to "write" new information to the disc for future retrieval.

Optical technology can also be used in some computers, where computations are done using photons in visible or infrared beams, instead of electric current. Using this technology in a computer, called an optical computer, greatly increases computational speed. Since electric current flows at one-tenth the speed of light, it may someday be possible to have an optical computer that processes at ten times the speed of today's computer. Intel is developing better optical computing technology, which would greatly improve computer performance and reduce energy consumption. Below are some additional examples of optical terms that relate to computers.

Examples of optical used with computers

Hardware terms