An optical fibre is basically a cylinder-shaped waveguide that is used in a variety of applications such as communication, entertainment, construction, decoration, medicine, healthcare, research and development, etc. The material generally used for the construction of optical fibres include silica, glass, and plastic. Optical fibres are incredibly thin in size and are slightly thicker than the diameter of human hair. The diameter range of an optical fibre typically lies between 0.25 mm and 0.50 mm and the signal bandwidth on which an optical fibre can operate is approximately equal to 900 THz. Optical fibres can be broadly categorized into three basic types on the basis of the type of construction material used, the refractive index of the core and cladding, and the mode of propagation of light. Some of the most common types of optical fibres include step-index optical fibre, graded-index optical fibre, plastic optical fibre, glass optical fibre, silicon optical fibre, single-mode optical fibre, and multimode optical fibre. Optical fibres are advantageous as they are flexible, lightweight, slim, and non-flammable in nature. Also, there are certain limitations to using optical fibres for different applications in real life as optical fibres are less robust than the traditional wires, are highly susceptible to suffering dents, and are likely to break easily if bent too much. Also, the cost of manufacturing and installation of optical fibre cables is quite higher than the copper or aluminium cables. The glass optical cables are very fragile and require high maintenance and care. If the signal strength of the input signal is not maintained to an appropriate level, it may get lost midway and there exist no chances of reconstructing the signal back again, i.e., if a signal transmitted via optical fibre cables gets lost, it is lost forever.
Uses of Optical Fibre in Daily Life
There are a variety of daily life applications that rely on optical fibres for their basic operation. Some examples of such applications are given below:
1. Communication Systems
An optical fibre communication system is a mode of communication that involves the transmission of information from the source to the destination in the form of infrared light signal pulses. This type of communication is suitable for both long-distance as well as short-distance communication and allows the user to exchange all kinds of signals including voice, video, data, and telemetry signals. The elements of a fibre optic communication system include a transmitter circuitry, light source, photodetector, and receiver circuitry. Light-emitting diodes or LASER light are preferred light sources for the transmission of signals in optical fibre communication, while PN junction diodes and avalanche diodes are the preferred photodetectors for reception and detection purposes. An optical fibre communication system is generally preferred over other modes of communication as it proves to be a reliable mode of communication and offers the minimum possibility of the input signal getting affected by electromagnetic interference. Also, an optical fibre based communication system has a significantly large bandwidth, fewer chances of signal degradation, provides high data security, is comparatively cost-effective, and consumes lesser power.
2. Medical Equipment
Optical fibres are widely used in various medical equipment and research laboratory machines. For instance, the endoscope, otoscope, ophthalmoscope, etc. are some of the diagnostic medical gadgets that rely on optical fibres for their general operation. Optical fibres are usually preferred for medical diagnostic and treatment applications because they offer no or minimum side effects and harmful consequences, are flexible in nature, have a significantly lesser surface area, and do not emit any sort of toxic radiation. Other than diagnostic and treatment applications, optical fibres can also be used for research applications in the microbiology and biomedical sector.
3. Fairy Lights
Fairy lights and other decorative items also make use of optical fibres. The advantages of using optical fibres for lighting and decoration purposes include minimum chances of signal leakage and electric shocks, lightweight, flexibility, affordable cost, long life span, etc. Also, optical fibre based lighting and decorative items are comparatively safer and economical.
Internet is one of the prominent examples of real-life applications that make use of optical fibres. Optical fibres are capable of transmitting a large amount of data from one place to other in relatively less duration of time. The high data transmission speed, flexibility, light-weight nature, and ability to carry bulk data easily make optical fibres suitable to be used in internet cables in place of traditional copper wires.
5. Surgery and Dentistry
The non-intrusive surgery procedures are yet another application of optical fibres in real life. In surgical applications, optical fibres tend to emit a bright light that helps light up the target surgery area and improves vision for the doctors and medical personnel, thereby reducing the number and the depth of the incisions.
6. Computer Networking
Computer networking can be defined as the interconnection of two or more computer systems located within a single building or among different premises with each other. This interconnection of devices helps the user to exchange information, access common applications, and share resources at a faster rate with great accuracy and security. The speed of data transfer and the authenticity of the system to access files can be enhanced easily by replacing the traditional connecting cables with optical fibre cables. Also, optical fibres enable the simultaneous transfer of bulk information and data from one end of the network to the other.
7. Automotive Industry
The automotive industry basically makes use of optical fibres to illuminate the interiors of vehicles. This is because optical fibres do not consume much space, radiate bright light, can be deployed flexibly in the mechanical structure of the vehicle, are economical, do not consume much power, have minimum chances of signal deterioration and leakage, have a significantly longer life span, and do not require frequent maintenance. Other than the interior illumination applications, the automotive industry may also employ optical fibres in the exterior lamps of a vehicle. Also, optical fibres can be used in a system for communication purposes. For instance, in case of an accident, the network of optical fibres can be used to transmit the signal generated by the collision detector or sensor to the internal circuitry of the vehicle and helps quickly activate the traction control and airbag system. Using optical fibres for communication among different parts of a vehicle is advantageous as the optical signal travels at the speed of light, thereby improving the response time of the control systems.
The local telephonic connectivity within a building, a city, or a country and the global telephonic connectivity among the users based in different countries typically relies on the basic working principle of optical fibres. For the purpose of cellular communication, the optical fibre cables are bundled together and are laid underground or beneath the sea surface area. This improves signal safety and security as the data flowing does not easily get affected by the electromagnetic interference introduced by the other electromagnetic waves travelling in the environment. The optical fibre-based telephonic connection enables the users to connect with each other within a fraction of seconds as the optical signal flows at the speed of light. Also, such communication systems tend to remove the lead and lag problems, thereby allowing the two parties to have a clear conversation with little or no distortion. The disadvantage of using optical fibres for telephonic communication is that the cables are susceptible to undergo micro bends due to the deformities present beneath the ground and may hamper the quality or content of the signal.
9. Inspection Devices
Optical fibres are of great use to inspection and maintenance engineers. This is because optical fibre cables are flexible and can be used to inspect hard-to-reach places. The design of the inspection devices tends to vary according to the type of area of implementation. For instance, one of the most popular optical fibre based inspection devices makes use of a micro camera mounted on a long flexible optical fibre tube made up of silica, plastic, or glass. To begin the inspection process, the arrangement of the camera and tube is placed within the area that is to be inspected. The camera tends to capture visual information and pass it on to the optical fibre cable. The technician or the engineer then obtains the information on a display device. The advantage of using optical fibre for inspection purposes include greater flexibility, improved vision, minimum chances of signal loss or damage, a faster rate of information transfer, etc.
10. Military Applications
The data transmitted with the help of optical fibre is highly secure and can be accessed only by the authenticated user. This particular property of optical fibres can be utilized in numerous military applications as the main focus of military applications is data security and privacy. All three military applications, namely, army, navy, and aerospace make use of optical fibres to establish a common channel between the different stations to exchange information and analyse data. Some of the prominent applications of optical fibre in the military include avionics and mission control systems, high-speed mission data exchange, flight planning, sensor data fusion, controlling the operation of weapon systems, etc.
11. Space Applications
A number of space applications such as satellite communication, remote sensing, high power laser systems, multispectral and hyperspectral imaging, optical data communication, lidar, atmospheric monitoring and analysis, etc. rely on optical fibres for their operation. This is because the use of optical fibre minimizes the risk of interference, allows the use of maximum bandwidth, and makes the system cost-effective, flexible, simple, and lightweight.
12. Cable Television
Cable televisions make use of a network of optical fibre cables to communicate cable signals from the source to multiple destinations. The high bandwidth and transmission speed of the optical fibre cables is generally utilized in cable television application. Also, using optical fibres in place of the traditional copper wires is advantageous as they are comparatively cheaper to manufacture, deploy, and maintain.