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Incredible Uses of Fibre Optics: Shark Protection

Fibre optics technology has been making waves over the past year, quite literally. We follow-up from Part 1's Incredible Uses of Fibre Optics: From Drones to Smart Clothing to demonstrate even more interesting applications of this fascinating tech. It's much more than just telecommunications.

How has fibre optics made waves? Take the shark incident, for example.

Last year, a Google product manager mentioned that Google wraps its underwater fibre optics cables in Kevlar sheathing to protect them from hungry sharks. Faster than you can say Jabber Jaw, someone reposted a 2010 video on Youtube of a shark chomping on just such a sea bound cable.  

Besides sending the view count for the original video past the one million mark, Google’s brief comment reignited interest in fibre optics, a technology that was born in the early 1970s and is now being utilised in sectors ranging from medicine and security to network storage.

Since the UN declared 2015 the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies, let’s take another look at how fibre optics has been used, especially in various business contexts and applications.

Telecommunications

Fibre optics technology transmits light through glass or plastic filaments and has been used for voice communication since the 1970s. Providers began replacing copper links with fibre optics in the 1980s because it’s cheaper to install and transmits data up to 100 times faster. Today, telecom companies are extending and upgrading their fibre networks to deliver better phone service, faster Internet, HD TV and HD video to both homes and businesses.

Learn the technical side and whether or not fibre optics is right for your business in our wired solutions section

Networks and storage

A single strand of fibre less than one-tenth the thickness of a human hair can carry about 25,000 phone calls. That capacity makes fibre optics a great conduit for business network applications from VoIP to video conferencing.

Fibre optics is also used for various types of data storage including network attached storage (NAS) for file sharing, storage area networks (SANs) for sharing data among servers, and content-addressed storage (CAS) for archiving materials that can’t be edited, like medical records or old invoices.

Lighting

In Part 1, we showed you how fibre optics is being used to create natural light indoors, even in rooms with no windows!

Fibre optics uses light rather than an electrical current, making it a safer way to light up areas involving water. Take swimming pools, for example, where you can create dramatic displays and lighting features at night. We love this below video featuring a "jumping water" swimming pool. It's like your own Bellagio, made with fibre optic lighting and a cheesy soundtrack.

Fibre optics filaments are bendable and generate less heat and energy than electric lighting, so they’re also a popular option for lighting retail stores (think merchandise showcases and other displays), museums and restaurants, as well as for signage.

Sensors

Optical fibres are deployed to detect and monitor physical, chemical and biological conditions such as light levels, liquid levels, objects, temperatures and weight.

Industrial, medical and manufacturing applications for these sensors include quality control, diagnostics, industrial weighing scales, engine monitoring systems, chemical purity detection and fuel level gauges and pump controls at gas stations. It's quite the list of applications since sensors are in pretty much everything now!

Safety and security

Fibre optic sensors also help keep us safe on the roads. They’re used in traffic signals and cameras as well as ‘smart’ overhead highway signs displaying real-time information about weather, construction, lane closures and delays.

Unlike electrical current, fibre optics doesn’t generate sparks. That’s why fibre optic sensors and cabling are used in security cameras and detection equipment in areas like chemical plants where explosive or combustible materials may be present.

The Optical Time Domain Reflectometer (OTDR) is another fibre optic security application. By detecting any interruption along a fibre optic line, it alerts network managers when a telecom cable has been accidentally cut by a construction crew, for example. In the same way, OTDRs are deployed as security perimeters to detect intruders around military bases and other buildings. 

Military

Speaking of the military, the U.S. Army plans to replace old computer wiring inside its Abrams tanks with fibre optics, a move it estimates will reduce the weight of the armoured vehicle by two tons. Having a lighter, faster vehicle is obviously a huge advantage when you’re on a battlefield.

We started off this blog with a bit of a shark tale. But now you’ve got proof that a technology more than four decades old is still on the cutting edge when it comes to keeping us safe, securing our properties, running our businesses, manufacturing our products, transmitting our data and lighting up the places we live and work in.

Still missed out on Part 1 of the story? No worries, check it out here, and tell us your favourite fibre optics uses in the comments below.

Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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