A new system that allows fibre-optic sensors to send data up to 100 times faster along conventional optical fibres has been developed by researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

Distributed optical fibre sensors have long been able to deliver a ‘map’ of a physical quantity along an optical fibre, enabling early warnings of faults in structures such as pipelines or bridges. However, this time-based optical sensing technology is difficult to improve without significant hardware investment.

A research team led by Xizi Sun and Zhisheng Yang has proposed a new software-based method of sending data up to 100 times faster over a wider area along existing fibre infrastructures – without the need for significant hardware upgrades.

It does this by “encoding the interrogating light signal by a single-sequence aperiodic code and spatially resolving the fibre information through fast post-processing” – essentially grouping light pulses into sequences, which are then processed via a specially developed genetic algorithm.

This helps to minimise the problems of noise and ‘echoes’ in the system, by intensifying the true signals.

A detailed research paper published in the journal Nature says that this

“methodological breakthrough can be readily implemented in existing instruments by only modifying the software, offering a simple and cost-effective upgrade towards higher performance for distributed fibre sensing”.