Perspective work on optical fibre sensors, Proc Advanced Laser Technologies (ALT) , Faro, Portugal, Vol. Invited, pp. 1 - 1, September, 2015.
Optical fibre based sensors are transforming industry by permitting monitoring in hitherto inaccessible environments or measurement approaches that cannot be reproduced using conventional electronic sensors. A multitude of techniques have been developed to render the fibres sensitive to a wide range of parameters including: temperature, strain, pressure (static and dynamic), acceleration, rotation, gas type, and specific biochemical species. Constructed entirely of glass or polymer material, optical fibre devices like fibre gratings offer the properties: low loss, dielectric construction, small size, multiplexing, and so on [1-3]. In this paper, the authors will show the latest developing industrial applications, using polymer optical fibre (POF) devices, and comparing their performance with silica optical fibre devices.
The authors address two pressing commercial requirements. The first concerns the monitoring of fuel level in civil aircraft. There is a strong motivation in the aerospace industry to move away from electrical sensors, especially in the fuel system. This is driven by the need to eliminate potential ignition hazards, the desire to reduce cabling weight and the need to mitigate the effects of lightning strikes in aircraft where the conventional metallic skin is increasingly being replaced by composite materials. In this case, the authors have developed pressure sensors based on a diaphragm in which a polymer fibre Bragg grating (POFBG) has been embedded . These devices provide high pressure sensitivity enabling level measurement in the mm range. Also, it has developed an approach incorporating several such sensors which can compensate for temperature drifts and is insensitive to fluid density. Compared with silica fibre-based sensors, their performance is highly enhanced. Initial results have attracted the interest of Airbus from UK, who is keen to explore the potential of optical technology in commercial aircraft.
The second concerns the monitoring of acoustic signals and vibration in the subsea environment, for applications in geophysical surveying and security (detection of unwanted craft or personnel). There is strong motivation to move away from electrical sensors due to the bulk of the sensor and associated cabling and the impossibility of monitoring over large distances without electrical amplification. Optical approaches like optical hydrophones  offer a means of overcoming these difficulties. In collaboration with Kongsberg from Norway, the authors will exploit the sensitivity improvements possible by using POF instead of silica fibre. These improvements will arise as a result of the much more compliant nature of POF compared to silica fibre (3 GPa vs 72 GPa, respectively). Essentially, and despite the strain sensitivity of silica and POFBGs being very similar, this renders the POF much more sensitive to the applied stress resulting from acoustic signals or vibration. An alternative way of viewing this is that the POF is better impedance-matched to the surrounding environment (water for the intended applications), because although its impedance is higher than that of water, it is nearly an order of magnitude smaller than that of silica.
Finally, other future industrial applications will be presented and discussed, showing the vast range of the optical fiber devices in sensing applications.