Switch optically faster
The fiber optic network opens up new ways of data transmission through light. In order to ensure rapid and error-free information distribution, opto-mechanical fiber switches that switch quickly and accurately are necessary. With the rapid spread of the Internet, optical data transmission is becoming increasingly important. More information can be transmitted more quickly via the fiber optic cable than via conventional copper lines – a necessary prerequisite for the increasing data rates in video and multimedia applications. High-precision opto-mechanical fiber switches are required to ensure the fast and error-free distribution of information flows. In a joint three-year project, the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF and the company Piezosystem Jena have developed novel, fast micro-optical switching and beam deflection systems.
In the fiber optic network, data is not transmitted by electricity but by light. This means that a large number of channels are available at the same time. "You can imagine [switching] like making a phone call," explains Steffen Glöckner from the IOF. “The calls are forwarded via a cable. At distribution points, they have to be assigned to the desired recipients at lightning speed using switching and distribution systems.” The distribution points in the fiber optic network work with opto-mechanical fiber switches, among other things. In order to obtain fiber switches that switch quickly and at the same time are precise, the researchers from the IOF have combined micro-optics and piezoelectric actuators: Micro-lenses are mechanically shifted, deflect light beams and thus act as switches. This offers several advantages: Microlenses have almost no lens defects, so that light beams can be transmitted very efficiently. Piezoelectrics - a synthetic ceramic expands when a voltage is applied - guarantees rapid mechanical displacements. The incoming light waves can be routed to different output channels within a very short time, around a millisecond. The concepts from the IOF enable switches with a very high number of channels that can be manufactured at low cost.
The IOF and Piezosystem Jena are currently working on further developing the switches to series maturity. The selected micro-optical principle has also opened up applications in completely different areas: miniaturized laser scanners for medical applications, material processing with lasers in the automotive industry and in security technology. These are prepared for industrial use in cooperation with partner companies.