By Ben Coxworth
15:37 February 3, 2012
When you want to isolate communications between two devices or locations, a fiber optic link is one of the best ways to go. Under some circumstances, however, you might also want to isolate the transmission of power - in situations where traditional copper wire might prove unsafe or impractical, for instance. That's why researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are developing a power-over-fiber (PoF) communications cable. It carries not only data, but also optical power.
Invented by Sandia's Titus Appel and Steve Sanderson, PoF is currently limited to a fairly low capacity, so don't expect it to be delivering power to your house any time soon. It could, however, supply power to small electrical devices such as sensors, for which it would also be providing data transfer.
In the cable's present incarnation, optical power goes through a single glass fiber. A laser diode at one end of that fiber emits light, while a miniaturized photovoltaic cell at the other end converts it into electricity. Power is only delivered on demand, in order to save energy.