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Japanese boffins say they've created plastic optical fibres to reach places that might break glass

Polymers can transmit at 53Gbps without error correction overheads, and could be just the thing for electric cars

Boffins at Japan's Keio University reckon they've built viable optical fibers from plastics.

Optical fibers are most often made of glass and are, as attested by the awesome data-schlepping capacity of undersea cables, freaking amazing.

But while boffins have made optical fibers very resilient, they've not been able to address all the fragilities in glass.

Enter Professor Yasuhiro Koike of the University’s Photonics Research Institute, which today announced it has created polymer optic fibers that can carry data at 53Gbps – and do that while bending. Critically, the materials are said to have less requirement for forward error correction than conventional fibers. That means less capacity is devoted to error-correction overheads, allowing more signal and less noise and/or noise removal effort.

There is, of course, a caveat: this tech can't carry data over long distances. The boffins are most comfortable using the polymer fibers to carry data a few tens of meters.

But that's enough distance to put polymer optical fiber to work in a datacentre. Or a car – an environment in which components are subjected to just the sort of vibrations and bumps that trouble glass.

Which is not to say that glass optical fibers can't bend: they can, and some bend-insensitive fibers are designed to be especially resilient. But even bend-insensitive fibers have their limits and there are clearly many applications in which very bendy fibers will come in handy – Keio University's announcement mentions industrial robots and depicts their swiveling limbs as potential applications for plastic fibers.

Prof. Koike will detail the tech at a November conference. ®

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