Prediction Method for Cable Tangling Could Aid in Underwater Fiber Optics

When sending an email, it travels through submarine optical cables that had to be installed at some point. The positioning of these cables can generate intriguing coiling patterns that can also cause problems if, for instance, they are tangled or kinked. The deployment of a rodlike structure onto a moving substrate is commonly found in a variety of engineering applications, like the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and engineers have long been interested in predicting the mechanics of filamentary structures and the coiling process. Now, mechanical engineers at MIT have collaborated with computer scientists at Columbia University and developed a method that predicts the pattern of coils and tangles that a cable may form when deployed onto a rigid surface. They discovered that in particular, the natural curvature of the rod dramatically affects the coiling process. The research combined laboratory experiments with custom-designed cables, computer-graphics technology used to animate hair in movies, and theoretical analyses.