Back in 2011 Professor Harald Haas of Edinburgh University asked “What if every light bulb in the world could also transmit data?” It turns out he proceeded to discover the answer for himself. So with standard-off-the-shelf LED’s (light-emitting diode), numerous tests were made and it appears that LED lighting fixtures can transmit wireless data at very competitive high speeds.
Haas calls it “Li-Fi”, broadband transmission using the Visible Light Spectrum or VLS. This is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, just like radio waves, is safe, practical to use and multi-functional. This type of broadband could be limitless.
NASA has started working with it to develop supplemental communications systems within the International Space Station’s Wi-Fi system, and possibly enhance it with such features as Global Positioning Satellite Routing Systems architecture. According to NASA, Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the not so famous photophone demonstrated in the 1880s, transmission of speech using modulated sunlight over a distance of several hundred yards. Cool right?
But we don’t have to go all outer space to see the near term useful applications of Li-Fi. It could do wonders providing broadband for a company headquarters or simple coffee shop. Anywhere LED lights are could be designed to use VLS technology. The blinking and flashing are happening faster than the human eye can register so you wouldn’t even notice the data transmission occurring. You can use off the shelf LED’s and $5 worth of parts to create a receiver. Connecting to the internet would be the same as usual.
A commercial product started shipping several months ago as Haas has launched a commercial venture called pureLiFi, also in Edinburgh, which shipped its first fully wireless optical networking systems in the fourth quarter of 2014. The product, Li-Flame, turns standard LED fixtures into wireless Internet access points.
Don’t be fooled there are a slew of other organizations looking into developing Li-fi, first being the Berlin-based Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute who is working on the technology and potential applications. They already feel confident of the system’s performance. That being, performance has proved to be quite competitive with other high-speed broadband sources throughout all the use cases, and the FHHI test was no different. The institute reported that data rates of one gigabit per second and more were achieved with conventional LEDs, a rate that allows for the “flawless” transmission of video data in HD and 4K quality.
Researchers at Disney wireless research group submitted a paper at a workshop at MobiCom 2015, held in Paris, France, that refers to Li-Fi accelerating the “Internet of Things”. The paper describes how LED light bulbs can also communicate with other VLS devices; exploring how the IP stacks and other networking protocols can be hosted on Linux-based VLC devices and concluded the proposed VLC protocols are flexible enough to interoperate.
Disney has their eye on this because the application for toys is mind boggling. If you visit the Disney research page for yourself you’ll see the concept for the Magic Princess Dress, for example, comes with a wand that triggers light effects on a princess dress. There are LEDs are embedded into the dress and when the child points the wand at the dress, it comes to life at exactly that location.
Now sit and ponder just for a moment the range of this. Light sensitive wearable tech – imagine you have subscribed to promote brands that you love for a fee and when walking past an LED light post in the park your shirt changes its LED fabric to broadcast an image or commercial of the brand on your shirt within a good visibility zone. How about sharing full length movies via your smartphone as long as they are pointing to each other for a few seconds to complete upload.
I don’t have to sit here and write down all the possibilities. Could Subliminal “light” messages really become the way we do business in the future? If you’re smart enough you can already see the media potential for this. Time to starts staring into the light for new ideas.