Fiber optics in the military

Fiber optic technology is in high demand in the military today. They are suited very well for their applications for the following reasons.

A fiber optic cable only needs a repeater (for the signal) every 16km or more, the coax cable on the other hand needs one every 500m. This reduces cost of a similar system with a lot. Also the coax weighs a lot more than a fiber optic cable, for example 16km of fiber optic cable weighs 550kg when the same length of coax cable weighs 2800kg.

On the other hand fiber optics are very safe to use. They are not affected by EMI or RFI like coax and they cannot be tapped by the enemy. This reduces the need for encryption of military communication. Fiber optics are strong and prove to operate well in harsh environments.

Do you think governments should spend the taxpayer’s money on improving the military? I think in many ways some nations (especially the USA) exaggerate on improving their military not only by implementing fiber optics but on all aspects. I wouldn’t necessarily feel safer or more powerful if Belgium had a big and advanced military.



Fiber Optic Design Accessories

Apart from the ‘useful’ applications fiber optics are also used in fashion, design and home decoration. In this post an overview of the most common and upcoming creativities with fiber optics is given.

Pretty popular is the star ceiling. This is a, mostly black, ceiling with fiber optic cables spread over the whole area. It gives the effect of a clear sky with stars at night. This is of course expensive and it takes a lot of effort to install such a ceiling.

Fiber optics also made their entrance in the fashion world. They’re used to make shiny accents on clothing or jewelry. Batteries are required to power these accessories, so it gets expensive if you use it too much and it doesn’t last longer than a few hours.

This time of the year most people are setting up their Christmas tree. Did you ever hear about a fiber optic Christmas tree? This is basically just like any other artificial Christmas tree but with fiber optics manufactured in the branches. They also come in small sizes made of optical fibers only. Again, these are more expensive than the standard versions, but are believed to be more energy efficient.

There are many more creative applications of fiber optics like light sabers, shiny accessories to take to parties or design lighting. An example of the latter is shown in the video linked below.

You can conclude that fiber optics have a very wide range of applications. Personally I’m not too much for fancy stuff to wear or put in the house, but I do like the star ceiling concept. Would you put a fiber optic Christmas tree in your house or wear a glowing armband or tuxedo?

Sources: (design lighting, long video, but it’s just to give you an idea)


Fiber optic neuron switch

In the video above, Ed Boyden shows how fiber optics can be used to (de-)activate some parts of the brain in order to investigate which regions are responsible for e.g. blindness or PTSD. This is done by inserting DNA of light-sensitive proteins into brain cells, which become like solar cells. When an optic fiber shines his light on that cell, it becomes active, and the other way around.

This process is explained in the video from 5:00 approximately, but especially the last one and a half minute is interesting. They start to talk about neural codes as binary numbers and downloading memories.

I find the underlying technology very interesting, but I think that for a first step, the illnesses have to be cured in order to help the ones that need it most. Downloading/uploading memories is (for now) maybe a bit too far, because that is something unique for a person which may not be fooled around with.


Fiber Optic Probe

In the clinical sector, optical techniques (microscope, endoscope…) have been used for hundreds of years. The integration of spectroscopic devices into existing optical examinations has the potential to substantially improve clinical practice. Fiber optic cables provide a flexible solution for an adequate optical interface between the spectroscopic device and the sample to be interrogated in place. Fiber optic probes can be advanced into cavities and tubular structures, put in contact with epithelial surfaces, and inserted into structures that can be punctured by rigid devices such as needles. Fiber optic devices for optical spectroscopy can be manufactured as flexible catheters with an outer diameter of less than 0.5 mm.

This provides the opportunity to measure cancer cells using FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy). This technique measures the infrared spectrum of absorption, emission or photoconductivity. With a fiber optic probe cancer cells can be measured inside the body because it is small and flexible. This means a leap forward in medical examination. It can determine the source of a medical complaint faster and more accurate. This means an earlier start of treatment which results in a higher chance on recovery.

I think this technology means a lot to society. Providing better health care is in everyone’s benefit, controlling is much diseases as possible is one of men’s goals. Over the years many more diseases can be cured, do you think one day we will be able to control everything? Or will new viruses and bacteria keep rising?


Faster internet for students

When looking at the internet accessibility in American (secondary) schools, the average American household has approximately the same amount of internet usage. This means that maybe over 200 scholars in one school make use of with a broadband for their education that provides for one single family.

Experts believe that a high-speed broadband of minimum 100 Mbps is necessary to give the children a better education, with more visual images and videos, and letting the children learn things more at their own pace. With Obama, change has indeed come, because he announced an ambitious effort to provide high-speed broadband to every classroom within five years. This way, America will hopefully catch up with countries like South-Korea and Singapore, where already 100 % of the schools are accommodated with fast internet.  

Further on in the article, the author says that countries like the two mentioned above outperform America when it comes to reading, math and science. And that is probably also true. But for me personally, I don’t think that a more advanced digital education is the main reason for that. More depends on the teacher and his or her way of teaching, and the upbringing and home situation of the student. What is your opinion about that, do you believe digital education is such a major advantage, compared to the “conventional” methods?

Thank you.



In the video above you can see the basic principles in practical application of a hybrid solar lighting system. (quality is not that good but it should give you a general idea).

This system provides natural light inside a building integrated in the artificial lightning systems during the day. It isn’t cheap yet but it reduces the energy bill. Independent studies also prove that natural light increases retail sales and employee/student productivity and wellness.

For more information and figures:

Travel at the speed of light

Transferring data from point A to B at the fastest speed possible is desired by probably every company and household in the world. At this moment, fiber optic cables are already faster than any alternative available.

A couple of months ago, researchers from the UK have made a huge step forward in reaching this goal. They have developed a hollow fiber optic cable, thus filled with air, which can transport data at an immense speed of 99.7 % of the speed of light. The current cables are made out of silica glass and their transfer rates  about 1000 times less. To illustrate: this gives you the opportunity to download at 10 terabytes per second!

However, don’t expect these revolutionary cables to be placed at your home anytime soon. At first, the big datacenters stacked with supercomputers will have priority (and money). Maybe in the future, when these cables are optimized and have become cheaper, everyone will get to enjoy massive data transfer speeds.

Another advantage of hollow optic cables is that the loss of data (when the cables are turned or folded), is nearly eliminated. This is because when the cable is made out of glass or plastic, the refractive index causes the light to bounce around in the cable core. A hollow core with an ultra-thin rim prevents this mostly.

How about you, do you think faster data transfer rates are necessary for personal use, or is it only an advantage for the big data centers?

Thank you!