From silkworms to spatial intelligence

How we helped transform lives in the most remote corners of the world

Who we worked with

Introducing Bombyx

Half the world’s population still remains unconnected to the internet, excluded from the huge social and economic benefits it offers. And with average data usage per person growing 20-30% annually, legacy bandwidth-limited technologies have been pushed to their capacity limits.

So we jumped at the chance to help develop Meta’s Bombyx, an aerial robot that aims to make fiber deployment significantly more economical in some of the world’s most remote areas.

Who we worked with

Silk-spinning innovation

Named after the silk-spinning Bombyx silkworm, the robot is designed to climb along electricity distribution lines, wrapping a new lightweight fiber-optic cable to bring fiber internet connectivity to more of the world at a fraction of the cost.

Bombyx is designed to be fully autonomous, moving along power lines and climbing around obstacles to lay kilometers of fiber-optic cable without the need for human intervention.

It’s a truly remarkable piece of engineering, which incorporates many advances in materials, autonomous robotics and artificial intelligence – and, of course, our vision-based spatial intelligence software.

Adding our expertise

Where we come in

Our vision-based spatial intelligence software provides real-time location, mapping and object identification for the Bombyx robot. Using data from stereo cameras and an inertial unit, our software helps Bombyx locate itself on the powerline, and identify and map obstacles ahead so it can navigate around them.

The system combines innovations in robotics and fiber-optic cable design to dramatically lower the cost of deploying fiber. While there have been tremendous improvements in the strength and size of a fiber strand, as well as the amount of data a strand can carry, there has not yet been a widely applicable solution for reducing the cost of fiber construction (the main cost of deploying fiber).

“The robot will transform lives in some of the world’s most remote communities. The speed we can move is so exciting.”
Dr Tom Woodley, Deputy Head of Research and Development, Slamcore
Positive Outcomes

The results

Since it was first unveiled, Bombyx has become lighter, faster and more agile. If successful in the future, we believe it will allow fiber to effectively and sustainably be deployed within a few hundred meters of much of the world’s population, with a radical effect on the economics of fiber deployment around the world.

Each robot is capable of installing over a kilometer of fiber and passing the dozens of intervening obstacles autonomously in approximately an hour and a half.

While traditional aerial fiber deployment involves heavy machinery, reel carts, large spools and large crew sizes, a fiber deployment crew deploying our solution, will comprise two or three electric utility linemen and a pickup truck with a few kilometer spools of fiber, a robot, and a few accessories, allowing many crews to work in parallel.

We expect the total cost, including labor, depreciation, and materials, to be between $2 and $3 USD per meter in developing countries.

By lowering the total cost of aerial fiber deployment, we expect that our system will have a significant impact on internet penetration, especially among the half of the world earning less than $5.50 USD per day.