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Technology

Plastic optical cable promises cheaper, easy alternative to glass

Japanese researchers beat error problem that had plagued the material

The new plastic fibers reflect light forward to cut down on noise. (Photo courtesy of Prof. Yasuhiro Koike)

TOKYO -- A research team at Japan's Keio University has developed plastic optical fibers that can send information with few or no errors, with potential applications from data centers to self-driving cars.

Fiber-optic cables now used for high-speed data transmission are typically made with glass -- expensive, fragile and difficult to work with. There have been high hopes for plastic as an alternative, but plastic cables generate more error-causing noise that can delay transmission and use more energy.

The fiber developed by professor Yasuhiro Koike's team controls the path of the light traveling within it, scattering it forward to eliminate noise caused by light reflecting in other directions. It was able to transmit signals at 53 gigabits per second in testing, with no need for error correction.

The aim is to make the fibers available commercially as early as 2022.

This technology could reduce data lag in automated vehicles and cut down on electricity consumption by data centers -- a growing issue as more are built worldwide to keep up with the rise in data usage.

The team also sees uses in other areas requiring fast, accurate data transmission, such as controlling medical robots and sending high-resolution 8K images.

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