5 surprising uses for fibre optic cable

Until recently the term “fibre optic” was one that was only uttered on regular occasions by scientists and IT workers. Recently, however, the boom in high-speed internet has meant that almost anyone with access to the internet has heard the term.

But what does it actually mean and what else can it be used for besides bringing us super-fast download speeds and faster computer networks at work?

What is a fibre optic cable?

Any cable that uses optical fibres to carry information. The fibres themselves are made from incredibly thin strands of glass and there are often thousands of fibres in one cable, which is covered in an insulated jacket.

The information is sent through the cable in the form of light and as light is faster than sound, this means the speed at which information can be carried is vastly superior to traditional networking methods, which used metal wiring.

But other than being used to bring us our high-speed ‘broadband’ internet (ironically named given that fibre optic cables are far thinner than copper wire), what other useful and exciting applications do fibre optic cables have in our modern world?

Healthcare – In the fields of medicine and research, the use of fibre optics has become quite common in recent years. In endoscopy, for example, the tiny size of the fibres means that fewer incisions need to be made in order to make room for the endoscope. They are also used quite heavily in modern biomedical research.

Security – Due to its dramatically improved speed in transporting data, fibre optics have started to be used in many modern security situations. Fibre optic security is able to transmit video and audio with no signal interference and top-notch security.

No addition, it’s also easy to upgrade and is incredibly low maintenance with great reliability. Any modern security system not complemented by fibre optics cabling is simply not a forward-thinking system.

Cars – In many modern cars, fibre optic cables are used not only to provide lighting on the interior and exterior of the vehicle but are also used to transmit data between different parts of the car. This is particularly powerful when it comes to safety applications, which require split-second data transfer.

So, next time you are unlucky enough to experience an airbag deployment, it’s probably been controlled by fibre optics.

Art – The German artist, Lyn Godley, has utilised the naturally calming properties of art and combined it with the innate beauty of fibre optic light to create some exceptionally unique artwork.

Her art utilises traditional charcoal and pastel, but weaves optical fibres between the patterns to create dramatic and calming pulses of light that have been known to dazzle gallery-attendees for hours on end.

In other artistic endeavours, fibre optics have also been used on the catwalk, with fibre-optic dresses recently finding themselves displayed alongside 3D printed fashion at London Fashion Week.

Prosthetics – Perhaps the most shocking modern research development involving fibre optics is its use in prosthetic limbs. Until now, whilst researchers have made some bold developments in the field, it’s always been impossible for the wearer to actually use those limbs to ‘feel’.

Fibre-optic wiring, however, allows pulses of light to be sent directly to the wearer’s neurons – giving them the sensation of actual feeling. We’re still in the early stages of this one, but it could represent a bold step forward not just for fibre optics, but for medical science in general.

Other uses for fibre optics include everything from cable television and lighting/decoration to military and space applications, but the potential for the future is endless.

Now that we have truly been able to harness the power of light as a data stream, there is no telling where the future can take us next!