Engineers at social media giant Facebook are advancing new connectivity technologies to expand internet access and capacity worldwide.

A subsea fiber-optic cable that provides 200 times more internet capacity than recently deployed transatlantic cables will connect Europe to the U.S. This system builds on the experience gained with 2Africa PEARLS, the longest subsea cable system in the world, stretching over 45,000 km and connecting Africa, Europe and Asia.

Facebook researchers are also developing an aerial fiber deployment solution that uses a robot designed to safely deploy a specialized fiber-optic cable on medium-voltage power lines. The Bombyx robot travels along power lines, wrapping fiber cables around them. Combining innovations in the fields of robotics and fiber-optic cable design is expected to dramatically lower the cost of deploying fiber by utilizing electrical infrastructure.

Plans call for the robot to be capable of installing over 1 km (0.6 miles) of cable within about 90 minutes, utilizing machine vision sensors to automatically crawl around intervening obstacles such as insulators. The functional prototype is currently manually guided around obstacles by remote control.

To reduce the weight burden imposed by aerial fiber optic cable on power lines, Bombyx uses a special type of cable that incorporates a lighter weight braided Kevlar cladding, dropping the optical fiber count from the traditional 96 down to 24.

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