Researchers from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland have begun developing a new Light Fidelity (know as ‘Li-Fi’) technology that could turn ordinary LED lights into a sophisticated wireless communications network like WiFi. The technology works much like infrared remote controls, only much more powerful.

This is not a new idea, with German scientists creating an 800Mbps capable wireless network by using nothing more than normal red, blue, green and white LED light bulbs back in 2011. But the University of Strathclyde is leading a groupof UK universities, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), to develop its own version of the technology.

How it works

LED lights flicker on and off thousands of times a second. By altering the length of the flickers you can introduce digital communications. Most of the other teams are developing Li-Fi LEDs of around 1mm2 in size, while at Strathclyde University they plan to use micron-sized LEDs. This is because the smaller micron-sized LEDs are able to flicker on and off around 1,000 times quicker than the larger LEDs, offering faster data transfers and taking up less space. The LEDs could be used as lights, say for a screen displaying information, at the same time as providing internet.


Professor Martin Dawson of Strathclyde University explains the potential benefits: “This is technology that could start to touch every aspect of human life within a decade. Imagine a LED array beside a motorway helping to light the road, displaying the latest traffic updates and transmitting internet information wirelessly to passengers’ laptops, netbooks and smartphones. This is the kind of extraordinary, energy-saving parallelism that we believe our pioneering technology could deliver.”

There are, however, drawbacks. For example, light is easily blocked by things like walls. This could be a great breakthrough in internet communications, but don;t expect to see it implemented any time soon.

What do you think? Is Li-Fi technology something you’d like to see for the future of wireless communications?

(Image by Ed.ward)


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