Print 100 comment(s) - last by William Gaatje.. on Oct 16 at 11:43 AM

An artistic rendering of the new light-driven wireless network in action.  (Source: Boston University)
Could the networks of the future run on light

Solid-state lighting is one of the hottest topics in the tech industry, and with good reason.  The Department of Energy is sponsoring a $20M USD "L Prize" for advances in LED lighting, a type of light which uses solid-state components (diodes).  The research is a big deal as lighting currently consumes 22 percent of the electricity in the U.S.  If the DOE accomplishes its goals of reducing lighting energy use by 50 percent, it would save billions of dollars and reduce environmental impact.

New research from Boston University's College of Engineering, funded by a National Science Foundation grant, indicates that LEDs may be not only the integral lighting component of the future, but may also form the backbone of future wireless networks.

BU Engineering Professor Thomas Little describes the new research, stating, "Imagine if your computer, iPhone, TV, radio and thermostat could all communicate with you when you walked in a room just by flipping the wall light switch and without the usual cluster of wires.  This could be done with an LED-based communications network that also provides light - all over existing power lines with low power consumption, high reliability and no electromagnetic interference. Ultimately, the system is expected to be applicable from existing illumination devices, like swapping light bulbs for LEDs."

The primary goal of the research is to develop LEDs that do exactly that -- transmit information wirelessly via controlled blinking. 

Little continues, "This is a unique opportunity to create a transcendent technology that not only enables energy efficient lighting, but also creates the next generation of secure wireless communications.  As we switch from incandescent and compact florescent lighting to LEDs in the coming years, we can simultaneously build a faster and more secure communications infrastructure at a modest cost along with new and unexpected applications."

Professor Little and his colleagues imagine LED lighting in the room being hooked up to computer circuitry, which uses existing lighting to implement a wireless network which provides data to computers, personal digital assistants, television and radio reception, telephone connections and thermostat temperature control.  Prototypes of the new network design, according to Professor Little, should start at around 1 to 10 Mbps.  Better yet, bandwidth would be greater than in existing radio frequency (RF)-driven networks.

In the new network, each LED light bulb would act as an access point.  Another perk of the new design is beefed up security.  Unlike RF networks, the new signal would not pass through walls or other opaque objects.  This would help prevent snooping and connection theft.  The new system would also use much less power than RF, as solid state lighting is energetically cheaper to the strong radio signals needed for wireless internet. 

The flickering which drove the network would be performed so fast the human eye could not see it.  The network would ideally be able to operate outdoors as well as indoors.  The first test deployment may be outdoors, with a likely candidate being car interiors.  Professor Little continues, "This technology has many implications for automobile safety.  Brake lights already use LEDs, so it's not a stretch to outfit an automobile with a sensor that detects the brake lights of the car in front of it and either alerts an inattentive driver or actively slows the car."

While the technology seems very promising, one quandary is how to make the communication bidirectional.  Professor Little and his team have not elaborate on this tricky point yet in the initial press.  In order to send data requests, you would need a means of receiving light from devices such as cell phones or laptops, however, you ideally would want to avoid having to have a bright blinking transmitter on your device walls covered in sensors. 

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RE: Another problem
By mindless1 on 10/9/2008 12:50:01 AM , Rating: 2
No, you can't use different wavelengths for TX and RX, if the goal is using the same LEDs for room lighting, unless you mean including two different specific wavelength LED in the same room lighting fixture but even then, their wavelengths would be too similar to be effective if they were both part of the room lighting benefit.

You can't just divide up narrow bands when LEDs themselves deviate more than this in aveage production, it would require hand-picking and testing each LED which drives up costs a lot more when we're in an era that the adoption of LED lighting becoming widespread requires reduction rather than increase in cost.

Someday it will be more viable. It just won't be within the next few years for cost-conscious average consumers.

RE: Another problem
By William Gaatjes on 10/10/2008 5:18:41 AM , Rating: 2
When i look into several datasheets, led's are very consistent when it comes to produced wavelengths. I do not think that is the issue. And assembling multiple leds into a light has to be done anyway. Natural light consists of a very wide spectrum. Ever used a led light on different materials, you might not see the colour that is actually there because of the narrow spectrum of led's, even white led's have this problem although they are getting better with every generation. Besides white led's are already a combination of red green and blue led's. That's already 3 seperate wide bandwiths.

1 Led cannot produce the entire spectrum of natural light since the radiaton produced by the led is depended on the bandgap of the used materials. And we want natural light lighting. Trust me on that.

Every element has it's own colour. By mixing elements and other advanced tricks you can make most colours but not a wide spectrum. So in the end you can use different spectrum's for TX and RX. Because a led lamp that produces a similair spectrum as for example the good old edison lamp with it's glowing wire needs multiple led's , or a led that is build up from multiple emitting materials. Afcourse the handheld devices themselves don't need "natural light" TX led's , just there specified spectrum led's.

RE: Another problem
By William Gaatjes on 10/10/2008 6:58:44 AM , Rating: 2
I must mention that most white led's are blue led's with a phosphor coating. The phosphor coating is exited by the radiation of the blue led and the phosphor itself emit's a lower part of the spectrum. Here the improvement must be found in the coating since these led's are still a bit blue.

RE: Another problem
By mindless1 on 10/12/2008 2:00:59 AM , Rating: 2
They are fully able to coat to reach less blue hue, but it incurrs a loss of efficiency. Ultimately we're talking about consumers so some studies should be done to decide what the most blue light they are willing to accept is and build a according to that standard.

RE: Another problem
By mindless1 on 10/12/2008 1:59:22 AM , Rating: 2
No, most room lighting LEDs are binned for their wavelenght, any comprehensive datasheet should mention this binning.

Yes they have to be assembled into one light but that is why you have to know and pick a bin to achieve some particular wavelength.

White LEDs are not already a combination of red green a blue, they are blue LEDs with a coating that results in somewhat nearer "pure" white, the further away from blue it is the less efficient the LED is in producing light.

You can't use very different spectrums because you then escape the whole point which was that the *light* used was visible light within a desired room lighting specturm else the power was wasted and they might as well have used separate LEDs from the room light LEDs.

It is possible to have TX and RX offset enough in spectrum to accomplish this, if the RX has long enough on-cycle time to offset the TX LEDs, but adding to the complexity in this manner seems unproductive since the ultimate limit in range will be the client devices which are not using their TX/RX LEDs at anywhere near the power level the mains powered lighting is so for practical purposes the benefit is lost versus using an equivalent LED TX/RX pair as the hosts use. IOW, separate optical networking modules instead of integration into room lighting.

RE: Another problem
By William Gaatjes on 10/12/2008 7:49:43 AM , Rating: 2
Picking and binning is no issue. I have explained how led's produce the radiation. This is pretty constant.

And i already explained some led's are blue led's with a phosphor coating. These led's give unnatural lighting and is not pleasant to be in all day. Ask you fish for example what good lighting does for them. visible light is a big spectrum.

RE: Another problem
By mindless1 on 10/15/2008 4:59:20 AM , Rating: 2
Picking and binning is CRUCIAL, because we're talking about wavelengths that result in the desired ambient light hue by leveraging the light produced to also be a comm means.

You can't just ignore wavelength, the whole point was these wavelengths were power used to light the room desirably, not just picking among the whole spectrum.

Visible light is NOT a big spectrum when the goal is a desirable hue. The spectrums have to be very close or else you will have a pulsating effect noticable to the human eye.

RE: Another problem
By William Gaatjes on 10/16/2008 11:37:12 AM , Rating: 2

The modulation frequency is much too high for the human eye to notice. If we would be able to pick up light modulations in excess of 50 HZ for example, television would have never worked.

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