Buried fiber optic cable doubles as roadway sensor

Researchers are studying ways to use existing fiber-optic cables as distributed sensors to collect data on city road conditions.

Verizon and NEC recently conducted a proof-of-concept field trial in Richardson, Texas, during which they put an accelerometer on a rental car and drove it along a highway service road. The nearby fiber-optic cables acted as optical sensors that collected data based on vibrations from vehicles on the road, and NEC’s artificial intelligence software made sense of that data, classifying it into measurements of vehicle size, direction and speed of travel, and acceleration and deceleration.

Using fiber as optical sensors isn’t new, said Glenn Wellbrock, Verizon’s director of optical transport planning, but what makes this particular case unique is the use of standard transmission fiber. Typically, specialty fiber is used with purposeful gradings and placed around a specific perimeter, such as a military base.