Distributed optical fibre sensors are a unique class of photonic sensors in which an optical fibre cable acts as the sensing element and a quantitative measure can be performed at any position along the fibre, making possible long-range continuous measurements (>20 km). This way a conventional optical fibre may substitute for many thousands of point sensors and provide a direct map of the quantity to be measured. Distributed fibre sensors have become a widely used tool for critical asset monitoring in civil engineering and energy transport. However, beyond these domains little or no application has been found for these sensors.

The aim of U-FINE is to develop a new class of multi-scale distributed optical fibre sensors that would find use in a wide range of new application domains ranging from biomechanics to smart grids.

Currently, the state-of-the-art of conventional distributed fibre sensors is to measure quantities such as temperature and/or deformation with a spatial resolution of 1 meter over 30 km. This corresponds to 30’000 resolved distinct measurement points with a single interrogation unit and a single optical cable. The realistic ambition of the project is to radically change the interrogation methods available and be able to resolve up to 1’000’000 points with a single interrogation unit and a single cable. This will be done by either bringing the spatial resolution below 1 cm (still preserving kilometre ranges) and/or by extending the measuring range beyond 200 km (still preserving resolutions of 1-2 meter). Furthermore, we also aim at reducing the acquisition time of these systems in approximately two orders of magnitude, and demonstrating new architectures capable of addressing hundreds of fibre sections in a complex network with a single interrogation unit and passive network devices. To achieve these performances, merely improving present-day systems is definitely insufficient. Completely new interrogation schemes have to be developed. We believe that this project has good solutions for all the above challenges.

To assess the developed technology in realistic conditions, field tests of the developed systems are envisaged towards the end of this project. We will explore different applications that would not be possible with conventional performance values. As we will see, all the application tests proposed respond to actual demands that have been detected in the surrounding society. In addition to this, with the knowledge acquired through the accomplishment of these basic objectives, we will also pursue the demonstration of the use of distributed fibre sensing systems as high-resolution wearable sensors. More specifically, we will show the applicability of these sensors to ambulatory human movement analysis. This activity will surely lead to a radically new view of distributed fibre sensors among the scientific and industrial community.

It is envisaged that the European industry could largely benefit from the long-term results of this project, given the leading role of European companies in this emerging domain.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under ERC Starting Grant (307441).