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Electricity Over Glass

A major fiber-optics firm buys into transmitting electric power with light

3 min read

Running a live wire into a passenger jet's fuel tank seems like a bad idea on the face of it. Still, sensors that monitor the fuel tank have to run on electricity, so aircraft makers previously had little choice. But what if power could be delivered over optical fiber instead of copper wire, without fear of short circuits and sparks? In late May, the big laser and optics company JDS Uniphase Corp., in San Jose, Calif., bought a small Silicon Valley firm with the technology to do just that.

Photonic Power Systems Inc., in nearby Cupertino, has developed a system that uses a laser to inject power in the form of light into a fiber-optic cable and a photovoltaic (PV) array to convert the light back into electricity for powering devices. This method of transferring power can be highly advantageous in situations where sparks or shorts can be a fatal problem [see photo, " Fatal Short"], where electromagnetic interference is more than just an inconvenience--in cellphone base stations, for example, or in pacemakers--and where conventional methods are bulky and cumbersome.

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Greg Mably

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