The fiber optic internet cable needs to be distributed underground periodically and Facebook has come up with a robot to do this work for the company.
Fiber optic is preferred to the metallic one because it has an optic higher bandwidth, faster speed, longer transmission distances, and stronger security. However, if placed over the ground, it can cause issues caused by exposure to wind, ice, and temperature extremes causing it to sag and break over time.
Therefore, lining the fiber underground is preferred. However, this involves digging trenches throughout the city and filling them back in. This is a costly, disruptive, and laborious process.
This is why Facebook Connectivity’s Bombyx robot is here.
Its name is the Latin word for “silkworm” and it will be able to crawl along existing medium-voltage power lines, winding a continuous length of fiber optic cable around them as it does so. It will be able to cover one kilometer (0.6 miles) of cable within about 90 minutes, making use of the machine vision sensors to automatically make its way around “dozens of intervening obstacles” like insulators.
Since carrying one kilometer of the fiber will be too heavy, Bombyx uses a special type of cable that uses a lighter weight braided Kevlar cladding, and that drops the optical fiber count from the conventional 96 down to 24. Additionally, the new cable has a special heat-resistant outer jacket that keeps it from melting or stretching by the high temperatures which are typical for power lines.
Facebook Connectivity has already licensed the technology to high-speed internet company NetEquity Networks. The robot’s functionality video is available on YouTube.
Canada’s Hydro-Quebec public utility company has also recently developed a line-crawling robot of its own, for the automated inspection of power lines.