LiFi (Steve Dickens)

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LiFi (Steve Dickens)

I reported on this concept initially way back in 2011, when during a technical lecture in Scotland, professor Harald Haas introduced to the world the concept of ‘what if a wireless Internet system could run on nothing but an LED lightbulb?’

 

Back then, this “Li-Fi” concept was just a cool idea, but now, roughly four years later, professor Haas is back with a working prototype. If this invention catches on, all you’ll need is a lightbulb and a solar cell to get online in the not-so-distant future.

Through a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh’s Li-FI R&D Centre and a university offshoot company, the past four years have brought light-powered Internet connectivity out of the theoretical stage and into a tangible Li-Fi router. The real-world applications for Li-Fi connectivity could revolutionize the way much of the world gets online. The R&D team bringing Li-Fi to the real world expects that solar homes, consumer gadgets, and Internet of things devices will all be able to absorb power and receive data simultaneously with a Li-Fi system in place.

The Li-Fi prototype relies on solar energy to power Internet connections so that an LED light source paired with a solar panel becomes a fully functional transmitter and receiver system for high speed, secure data transfer. Instead of relying on hardwired cables or radio waves that are easily interrupted, Li-Fi uses the nearly undetectable flicker of an LED light to transmit data.

Li-Fi is much faster than most standard Wi-Fi connections, and, perhaps most importantly, provides a connection that is significantly more secure. Because Li-Fi relies on light to transmit data, you have to be in the room with your device and the Li-Fi router in order to get connected. That would preclude strangers or literal outsiders from piggy-backing on your connection or eavesdropping on your online activity.

Beyond the widespread Internet access that Li-Fi could help provide around the world, the technology also has applications for reliable systems like smart city networks and Internet of Things connectivity in the smart homes of the future.

“The wider opportunity is to transform global communications by speeding up the process of bringing Internet and other data communication functionality to remote and poorer regions in a way not previously thought achievable due to lack of infrastructure and investment,” said Tom Higgison, Edinburgh Research & Innovation’s IP Project Manager. Edinburgh Research & Innovation is the commercial branch of the technological developments accomplished on the University side, and they have announced they are looking for industrial partners to help bring Li-Fi routers to a more mainstream audience.

A side issue, which it doesn’t state whether or not has been considered, is that whilst a fast flickering LED bulb looks like a steady light to us, that does not apply to all animals (called the ‘flicker fusion threshold’.

It has been proved that pigeons (and so assumed for many bird species) would perceive lights as flickering when us humans see a steady light. The same is thought true for dogs and some other mammals. The effects of flickering LED lights on other species has, therefore, yet to be determined.

 

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