Fiber Optics Without Fiber

Beaming light through the air offers the speed of optics without the expense of fiber

12 min read
Fiber Optics Without Fiber

Mention optical communication and most people think of fiber optics. But light travels through air for a lot less money. So it is hardly a surprise that clever entrepreneurs and technologists are borrowing many of the devices and techniques developed for fiber-optic systems and applying them to what some call fiber-free optical communication.

Known within the industry as free-space optics (FSO), this form of delivering communications services has compelling economic advantages. Although it only recently, and rather suddenly, sprang into public awareness, free-space optics is not a new idea. It has roots that go back over 30 years--to the era before fiber-optic cable became the preferred transport medium for high-speed communication. In those days, the notion that FSO systems could provide high-speed connectivity over short distances seemed futuristic, to say the least. But research done at that time has made possible today's free-space optical systems, which can carry full-duplex (simultaneous bidirectional) data at gigabit-per-second rates over metropolitan distances of a few city blocks to a few kilometers.

Keep reading... Show less

Stay ahead of the latest trends in technology. Become an IEEE member.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Engineers Are Working on a Solar Microgrid to Outlast Lunar Nights

Future lunar bases will need power for mining and astronaut survival

4 min read
A rendering of a lunar base. In the foreground are rows of solar panels and behind them are two astronauts standing in front of a glass dome with plants inside.
P. Carril/ESA

The next time humans land on the moon, they intend to stay awhile. For the Artemis program, NASA and its collaborators want to build a sustained presence on the moon, which includes setting up a base where astronauts can live and work.

One of the crucial elements for a functioning lunar base is a power supply. Sandia National Laboratories, a research and development lab that specializes in building microgrids for military bases, is teaming up with NASA to design one that will work on the moon.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Trilobite-Inspired Camera Boasts Huge Depth of Field

New camera relies on “metalenses” that could be fabricated using a standard CMOS foundry

3 min read
Black and white image showing different white box shapes in rows

Scanning electron microscope image of the titanium oxide nanopillars that make up the metalens. The scale is 500 nanometers (nm).

NIST

Inspired by the eyes of extinct trilobites, researchers have created a miniature camera with a record-setting depth of field—the distance over which a camera can produce sharp images in a single photo. Their new study reveals that with the aid of artificial intelligence, their device can simultaneously image objects as near as 3 centimeters and as far away as 1.7 kilometers.

Five hundred million years ago, the oceans teemed with horseshoe-crab-like trilobites. Among the most successful of all early animals, these armored invertebrates lived on Earth for roughly 270 million years before going extinct.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less
Distinguishing weak signals from noise is a challenging task in data acquisition. In this webinar, we will explain challenges and explore solutions. Register now!
Keep Reading ↓ Show less