Hampiðjan’s fibre-optic data breakthrough

Hampiðjan’s fibre-optic data breakthrough Hampiðjan’s CEO Hjörtur Erlendsson presenting the opportunities offered by the new DynIce Optical Data cable. Photo: Eva Björk Ægisdóttir

A new fibre-optic data cable developed by Hampiðjan represents a breakthrough in the speed at which data can be channelled from trawl sensors to a trawler’s wheelhouse.

The company has been quietly developing its DynIce Optical Data cable for some years, focusing on overcoming the challenges of protecting the vulnerable fibre itself from elongation and bending forces in a protective jacket around three fibres within the cable itself.

DynIce Optical Data is already subject to a patent application, plus Hampiðjan has applied for further patents on a variety of processes and techniques that have arisen from the development of robust protection for the delicate fibre optics contained within the cable.

This development has significant implications for trawl gear electronics. Conventional copper and steel cables have been in use for more than sixty years to route signals from headline sonars to catching vessels, but in recent years the problem has been that these cables are where the bottleneck in development lies – as increasingly sophisticated electronics have far outstripped the data transfer capacity available.

Now the first DynIce Optical Data cable is at sea with Icelandic pelagic vessel Beitir as the first full-scale seagoing trials with this revolutionary new cable are being carried out.

Optical-speed data transfer

According to Hampiðjan CEO Hjörtur Erlendsson, each of the three fibres encased in the DynIce Optical Data cable has capacity to send 10gb of data per second, opening up a possibilities for both existing technology, with electronics companies struggling to work around the limitations of copper cables, as well as for new technologies that are starting to emerge.

Hampiðjan has already been working with Star-Oddi and the Marine Research Institute in Iceland, as well as with Simrad in Norway. The co-operation in Iceland has centred around developing a trawl-mounted scanner capable of analysing catch composition in terms of size and species –which the high data capacity of the DynIce Optical Data cable makes a realistic possibility.

“What would be ideal would to be able to see the fish as they enter the trawl, obtaining images individual fish on their way to the codend, along with size and species analysis. Our aspiration is that we could make it possible to grade the fish in the trawl, retaining the target species and sizes, and releasing everything else,” he said.

“This kind of technology hasn’t been a realistic possibility until now because of the data transfer bottleneck, and this would go a long way towards eliminating discards. This is the kind of development that we want to enable and support.”

Hjörtur Erlendsson added that electronics suppliers such as Simrad have already shown a keen interest, and Simrad in particular has immediately adjusted its priorities away from focusing on compacting data as far as possible for transfer via conventional copper technology as soon as they became aware of the opportunities that a fibre-optic link to the fishing gear could offer.

“There is a great deal of development to be done on trawl sensors now once the limitations of conventional cables are removed,” he said.

“The first step is that skippers will be able to make fuller use of the sensors that are already mounted on headlines and elsewhere on the trawl gear. We work extensively with fishing skippers and much of this work involves material from trawl-mounted cameras that provides information on fish behaviour – which is hugely valuable for us in refining and developing trawl gear. So skippers are very interested in the possibilities of real-time imaging from the trawl gear, both for selectivity reasons – being able to target or avoid marks of fish depending on the species – and in terms of learning more about fish behaviour. This kind of information is also what we need to understand how fish behave so that we can design the trawls they need.”

Although the DynIce Optical Data cable is now a reality, it’s still going to be a while before it becomes available.

“We are working with Beitir’s owners, Síldarvinnslan, on this and there are are trials taking place over the coming weeks as we assess its performance under working conditions,” Hampiðjan’s development manager Jón Atli Magnússon said, commenting that this is an innovation that initially has implications for fishing, while there is also strong interest from the research sector and other subsea industries that recognise what it offers, not least as DynIce Optical Data combines its data capacity with exceptionally high strength.

“The fibre optics themselves are glass threads that are finer than a hair, have no elongation tolerance and limited bending tolerance, so it has been challenging to come up with the protection that this needs – but we feel we are there now,” he said, commenting that it has been a demanding process to get this far, and technical fund Rannís has supported the work and resources the company has out into this.

“This opens up a new world of opportunities,” he said. “I’m sure that we are going to see more applications for this that we haven’t so far been aware of, which will allow Hampiðjan access to a range of new markets.”

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