Fibers have many uses in remote sensing. In some applications, the sensor is itself an optical fiber. In other cases, fiber is used to connect a non-fiberoptic sensor to a measurement system. Depending on the application, fiber may be used because of its small size, or the fact that no electrical power is needed at the remote location, or because many sensors can be multiplexed along the length of a fiber by using different wavelengths of light for each sensor, or by sensing the time delay as light passes along the fiber through each sensor. Time delay can be determined using a device such as an optical time-domain reflectometer.
Optical fibers can be used as sensors to measure strain, temperature, pressure and other quantities by modifying a fiber so that the property to measure modulates the intensity, phase, polarization, wavelength, or transit time of light in the fiber. Sensors that vary the intensity of light are the simplest, since only a simple source and detector are required. A particularly useful feature of such fiber optic sensors is that they can, if required, provide distributed sensing over distances of up to one meter.
Extrinsic fiber optic sensors use an optical fiber cable, normally a multi-mode one, to transmit modulated light from either a non-fiber optical sensor—or an electronic sensor connected to an optical transmitter. A major benefit of extrinsic sensors is their ability to reach otherwise inaccessible places. An example is the measurement of temperature inside aircraft jet engines by using a fiber to transmit radiation into a radiation pyrometer outside the engine. Extrinsic sensors can be used in the same way to measure the internal temperature of electrical transformers, where the extreme electromagnetic fields present make other measurement techniques impossible. Extrinsic sensors measure vibration, rotation, displacement, velocity, acceleration, torque, and twisting. A solid state version of the gyroscope, using the interference of light, has been developed. The fiber optic gyroscope (FOG) has no moving parts, and exploits the Sagnac effect to detect mechanical rotation.
Common uses for fiber optic sensors includes advanced intrusion detection security systems. The light is transmitted along a fiber optic sensor cable placed on a fence, pipeline, or communication cabling, and the returned signal is monitored and analysed for disturbances. This return signal is digitally processed to detect disturbances and trip an alarm if an intrusion has occurred.