Engineers at EPFL in Swtzerland have improved the encoding and decoding of data in fibre optic sensors to send data up to 100 times faster and over a wider area purely with software.
"Unlike conventional sensors that take measurements at a given point, like thermometers, fiber optic sensors record data all along a fibre," said Luc Thévenaz, a professor at EPFL's School of Engineering and head of the Group for Fibre Optics (GFO). "But the technology has barely improved over the past few years."
Fibre optic sensors are commonly used in hazard detection systems, such as to spot cracks in pipelines, identify deformations in civil engineering structures and detect potential landslides on mountain slopes. The sensors can take temperature readings everywhere a fibre is placed, thereby generating a continuous heat diagram of a given site - even if the site stretches for dozens of kilometres. That provides crucial insight into possible accidents before they happen.
Working with the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, two GFO engineers developed a system for encoding and decoding data sent along the fibres based on a genetic algorithm. This allows the sensors to receive higher-energy signals and decode them faster, resulting in measurements taken more rapidly and over a larger area.
Postdoc researchers Zhisheng Yang and PhD student Simon Zaslawski grouped the light pulses into sequences so that the signals bounce back with greater intensity, coupled with the aperiodic genetic encoding algorithm.
"Other systems are either limited in scope or expensive," said Thévenaz. "But with ours, you just have to add a software program to your existing equipment. There is no need to adapt sensors or use complex devices."
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