Conventional optical fibers are considered to have poor flexibility, while their diameters are not compact enough. Moreover, such fiber optic systems are relatively fragile and can be damaged by impact, they have a heavy mass because of a relatively large specific gravity. Finally, the cost of the optical fibers, as well as the fiber optic connectors, is pretty high. Thus, the mentioned disadvantages promote the replacement of glass materials with plastic optical fibers.
To be more precise, plastic or polymer optical fiber is a traditional optical fiber made of polymer. The principle of such fiber optics operation is similar to glass material and is based on light transmission through the core of the fiber. Herewith, a polymer fiber optic device offers such an advantage over the glass material as the robustness under bending and stretching.
Additionally, polymer fiber optics are regarded as the “consumer” optical fiber because of quite a low cost of the optical fiber, associated optical links, fiber optic connectors, and installation. The main applications of such fiber optic devices include low-speed, short-distance (up to 100 meters) uses in digital home appliances, home networks, industrial networks, and car networks because of such features as the attenuation and distortion of optical fibers.
Low cost and high resistance of optical fiber material make it possible to use polymer fiber optic systems for remote sensing and multiplexing. It should be noted that the fiber optic core 96%, 1.0 mm polymer optical fiber is made of acrylic, a general-purpose resin and fluorinated polymers resulting in 650 nm fiber wavelength, suitable with traditional off the shelf components.
The benefits of polymer fiber optic technology include the following features:
- lightweight, robustness, and flexibility resulting in large diameters and numerical apertures;
- easy-to-use, herewith, optical fibers can be quickly connected to light-emitting and/or accepting elements.
Moreover, the majority of polymer fiber optic systems provide the “loss minimum at visible wavelengths, or in the near-infrared (at < 1.3 μm) in case of perfluorinated polymers”. For instance, the loss minimum of silica optical fibers is at > 1.5 μm, and some other glasses even at much longer wavelengths.
Generally, plastic optical fibers are multimode fiber optic devices with a large core and a high numerical aperture providing a great benefit when light-emitting diodes are employed as data transmitters. Nevertheless, this type of optical fibers is not suitable for single-mode guidance. Finally, polymer fiber optics allow applying simple plastic parts as connectors resulting in crucial cost savings and no sophisticated training. Herewith, polymer fiber optic cables are thinner and more lightweight than mechanically well-protected glass fiber cables.
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