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Startup Debuts Tractor for Gluing Fiber to the Ground

It's called the FiberTRAXtor, and it looks like some kind of riding lawnmower. The machine uses a protective substance to glue fiber to the ground at 500 feet per hour, hoping to cut install time and costs.

by / April 11, 2019
Daniel Turner, Traxyl's co-founder and CEO, tests out the prototype FiberTRAXtor, which lays down fiber and then coats it in a protective substance. The machine's design is subject to change, Turner stressed. Traxyl

Most Internet-carrying fiber cables are either buried underground or hung from utility poles. But if you call Traxyl, they’re going to bring out a vehicle that looks like a high-tech riding lawnmower and “glue” it to the ground.

The company, which has been developing a substance to lay fiber while protecting it from vehicles and weather, recently announced that it has built a working prototype of a kind of mini-tractor to install the stuff even faster.

“Before we were spending a lot of time on our hands and knees, and going through a lot of knee pads and gloves,” said Daniel Turner, Traxyl’s co-founder and CEO.

The new vehicle, which Turner said the company built from scratch and calls the FiberTRAXtor, has a spool of fiber on it and a setup rigged to lay it down and then immediately pave it over with the protective substance, cooling it with fans as it goes.

All told, Turner estimates it can install fiber at a rate of 500 feet per hour — a far cry from the process of digging into the earth, putting in cables and then burying them.

“We think the speed is actually light years faster than what [you usually do] with fiber,” he said.

The idea is to target last-mile fiber installations — that is, hooking up customers to an already-installed fiber “backbone.” By cutting down the cost and time to perform those final connections, Turner thinks the company can make it easier for customers, which already include public-sector clients, to get moving. In some cases it could even mean that a customer establishes their connection using Traxyl, then comes back a few years later after saving up money and pays for an underground installation that might last longer.

Before the FiberTRAXtor, the company would perform installs in three stages: Laying down the fiber, putting down the first coating of the protective substance, waiting a while and then putting on the second coating.

“If a dog came running over, that would kind of scare us that it might do something before we could get the coating on,” Turner said.

The machine combines the first two stages, and is performed from a seat that is ostensibly more physically comfortable than crawling around in a parking lot.

Traxyl only has the one prototype at the moment, and it plans on using it for an actual install in a couple weeks. But it’s also looking at taking the FiberTRAXtor on a road show to show off to customers. Details aren’t set yet, but he mentioned Ohio, Virginia, the Carolinas and Colorado as potential destinations. If the company can increase its prospective customer count, Turner said, it might be able to use that to demonstrate viability to investors who could then provide Traxyl with growth money.

Eventually, he said, he wants the company to move toward a model where it supplies the protective coating and installation materials — including the FiberTRAXtor — to contractors who will perform the actual installation work.

“If you think about the printer-ink model, building the printer and then selling the ink, that’s ultimately the model that we think we’re going to get to,” Turner said.

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Ben Miller Associate Editor of GT Data and Business

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.

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