When we first conceived of our aerial fiber deployment solution, Bombyx (the Latin name for a silk moth), we imagined a robot weaving strands of fiber-optic cables over powerlines, helping human workers quickly connect communities even in very rural or remote locations. Now, after years of successful research, Bombyx is taking the next steps in its development. Meta will license the technology to Japanese robotics company, Hibot.
Hibot will leverage their decades of robotic development experience to make this technology ready for deployment and will be developing it further with their partners. “We see this as a great opportunity for our business expansion. It is also an honor to have been selected by Meta to carry on this exciting endeavor,” said Michele Guarnieri, CEO of Hibot. “We will be moving with our current global partners, while seeking new and valuable alliances to help us leverage this great innovation.”
In addition to the fiber deployment use case, Hibot will utilize the core innovations we have developed for fiber installation to accelerate their current work in the infrastructure inspection space and also open up new opportunities, such as upgrading electrical grid infrastructure to support grid modernization and the wider use of renewable energy.
What is Bombyx?
Fiber optic cables underpin the global internet. With a capacity orders of magnitude greater than any other technology, fiber deployments enable abundant low-cost connectivity. But while the cost of fiber cables is low, the high costs and complexities of installing fiber have hampered widespread deployment.
Bombyx was developed as a means to address the cost and complexity of fiber installation. It is an evolution of an older, less common fiber installation technique called helical wrapping, where a fiber optic cable is wrapped around an existing powerline conductor. However, the need to shut the power off for extended periods of time to allow for fiber installation, the cumbersome fiber wrapping process, and the limited contiguous spans of fiber that can be installed are all key challenges for adopting the helical wrapping technique.
Bombyx addresses these challenges through a number of key innovations. By combining a novel, miniature fiber cable and pairing that with a unique, spool-free cable geometry, Bombyx allows long spans of fiber to be packed into a small volume and for it to be spun around a powerline conductor without the need for counterweights. Bombyx also introduces the first robot capable of traversing energized conductors and automatically crossing obstacles, including pin and post insulators that must be passed from above. It does this through a combination of machine vision and custom sensors, combined with thruster fans, drive/lift/rotation subsystems, and advanced stabilization control that allows it to balance itself and pass over obstacles like a tightrope walker.
The next frontier
While rural areas are making gains in terms of connectivity, they’re still lagging behind more dense urban areas. We always envisioned Bombyx as a frontier technology to help bring underserved people online all over the world. Achieving this will require close collaboration at all levels, from the engineers developing the technology to the linemen in the field deploying the cables with Bombyx. We believe Bombyx will help facilitate new large-scale fiber deployments that will ultimately benefit every consumer by providing higher capacity and lower costs. We look forward to seeing Hibot build on our efforts with Bombyx and what exciting things they’ll do with the technology next.