Tuesday 11 August 2020

Facebook's Fiber Deploying Robot

Facebook Connectivity, in collaboration with a number of partners, has spent the last few years developing an aerial fiber deployment solution that uses a robot designed to safely deploy a specialized fiber-optic cable on medium-voltage (MV) power lines. An article on Facebook Engineering page provides more details:

Each robot will be capable of installing over a kilometer of fiber and passing the dozens of intervening obstacles autonomously in approximately an hour and a half. To account for the human interaction steps such as setup, loading and unloading the robot, installing transitions, etc., we have been conservatively estimating an overall build speed of 1.5 km to 2 km per robot per day on average.

While traditional aerial fiber deployment involves heavy machinery, reel carts, large spools and large crew sizes, a fiber deployment crew deploying our solution, will comprise two or three electric utility linemen and a pickup truck with a few kilometer spools of fiber, a robot, and a few accessories, allowing many crews to work in parallel. These accessories will include an apparatus, developed by our partners Quanta Services, that’s designed to allow the robot to be safely loaded and unloaded from the live line by the line staff. There is also a custom cable clamp, which can be used to periodically clamp the fiber to the power line using a hot stick, along with a specially designed splice case and phase to ground assembly. We expect the total cost, including labor, depreciation, and materials, to be between $2 and $3 USD per meter in developing countries.

By lowering the total cost of aerial fiber deployment, we expect that our system will have a significant impact on internet penetration, especially among the half of the world earning less than $5.50 USD per day. This is thanks to a subtle benefit of the enormous bandwidth of each fiber strand, which allows large capacity upgrades to be made via simple changes to the electronics on either end of the fiber. Illustrated in the chart below, with each small increase in cost, we get a large increase in capacity, resulting in the cost per bit falling over time. We believe this feature of fiber will help enable those even in lowest income brackets to be able to afford all the rich content the internet has to offer, helping to bridge the digital divide.

Here is a video from them:

The post on the website is far more detailed and is available here.

Interestingly AFL has a similar type of robot they have been using for a while to do similar kinds of deployments. Details available here and a video, back from 2013, below:

These innovations should definitely help connect more unconnected people in every part of the world soon.

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