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Hollow-core optical fibre fit for military sensors

Posted: 19 Jul 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:military sensor? hollow-core optical fibre? gyroscope?

DARPA-funded researchers led by Honeywell International Inc. has developed a novel fibre design using a hollow core that significantly improves performance by forcing light to travel through channels of air, instead of the glass around it. According to them, the spider-web-like design is the first to demonstrate properties that are crucial for advanced military applications such as high-precision fibre optic gyroscopes for inertial navigation.

The critical performance-enabling properties of the hollow-core fibre include the single-spatial-mode, where light can take only a single path, enabling higher bandwidth over longer distances; low-loss in which light maintains intensity over longer distances; and polarisation control wherein the orientation of the light waves is fixed in the fibre, which is necessary for applications such as sensing, interferometry and secure communications.

Spider-web-like fibre design

Figure 1: Spider-web-like fibre shows single-spatial-mode, low-loss and polarisation control.

Hollow-core fibre can also be bent and coiled while guiding light at speeds 30 per cent faster than conventional fibre, added the researchers.

"Previous instantiations of hollow-core fibre have shown these high propagation speeds, but they weren't able to do so in combination with the properties that make it useful for military applications," said Josh Conway, DARPA programme manager. "The real breakthrough with COUGAR fibre is that it can achieve a single-spatial-mode, maintain polarisation and provide low loss, all while keeping more than 99 per cent of the optical beam in the air."

DARPA began COUGAR to enhance fibre optic performance for military-grade gyroscopes and to develop a world-class, hollow-core fibre production capability in the U.S.

"While we are still working on integrating this new technology into a gyroscope, the fibre itself is revolutionary," continued Conway. "This type of technology may also lend itself to other types of high-power sensors and additional applications where intense optical beams are required. Hollow-core fibre is also naturally radiation hardened, so it may open up fibre applications to space systems."

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