Although Internet access may seem universal, the truth is that there are still approximately 3.5 billion people who cannot access the Internet, according to data published by Facebook . The company itself has a proposal for this figure to change: a robot capable of installing fiber using medium voltage lines.
“This system combines innovations in the field of robotics and fiber optic cable design to drastically reduce the cost of deploying fiber,” explains Karthik Yogeeswaran, one of the people in charge of Facebook Connectivity.
Thus, the project has had two aspects. On the one hand, the creation of a much thinner and lighter cable that would allow its transport and placement in a simpler way and without imposing a great cost. One kilometer of standard fiber optic cable weighs approximately 113 kilos , while the same length of cable they have developed is 12 kilos .
The other aspect is the robot itself in charge of placing the fiber by wrapping the medium voltage cable with Facebook’s. One of the challenges was to get it to work without the need to disconnect the power, so it became imperative that the machine could avoid obstacles and work without human assistance or intervention.
To create this robot, they had the collaboration of ULC Robotics, which developed a design that has a subsystem capable of lifting the device and a rotating one to place the cable. All of this is complemented by a horseshoe-shaped tank to house the cable that rotates while you place it and remains static when overcoming obstacles.
This was coupled with the existence of a medium voltage line infrastructure that is quite widespread in countries where there is hardly any fiber, such as Uganda. According to data collected by Facebook, in 2019 more than 70% of the world’s population had fiber more than 10 kilometers away.
Despite its work on the project, Facebook will not handle cable distribution or provide Internet access; both will be in charge of NetEquity Newtworks, which will work with a non-exclusive license for which the social network will not charge money.
Yogeeswaran ensures that each robot is capable of laying one kilometer of fiber autonomously in approximately an hour and a half, which together with the rest of the necessary operations (loading and unloading the robot, installing the transitions, etc.) translates into an average of between 1.5 and 2 kilometers of cable robot day . The total cost, they hope, will be between $ 2 and $ 3 per meter in developing countries.