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Summary:

Can microscopic LED lights actually be used to transmit data at up to 1 gigabit-per-second? Yes, says a team of researchers in the UK. Here’s how it works.

Why 2010 is a Breakout Year for LEDs

The University of Strathclyde in the UK has created a research center aimed at turning the constant flicker of LED lights into a way to transmit internet communications using visible light, as opposed to radio waves (Wi-Fi, cellular) or via cables.

Dubbed, the Intelligent Lighting Centre (ILC), the consortium is made up of researchers from several UK universities, and is backed with £4.6 million (US $7.28M) by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Together the consortium aims to conduct research on a smaller LED than other groups around the world that are also investigating this technology.

First, a bit on what they call Li-Fi from the university release (or you can go catch a TED talk on the topic):

Underpinning Li-Fi is the use of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), a rapidly spreading lighting technology which is expected to become dominant over the next 20 years. Imperceptibly, LEDs flicker on and off thousands of times a second: by altering the length of the flickers, it is possible to send digital information to specially-adapted PCs and other electronic devices – making Li-Fi the digital equivalent of Morse Code. This would make the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum available for internet communications, easing pressure on the increasingly crowded parts of the spectrum currently being used.

Instead of researching Li-Fi LEDs around 1mm2 in size, the EPSRC-funded team is developing tiny, micron-sized LEDs which are able to flicker on and off 1,000 times quicker than the larger LEDs. This would allow them to transfer more information, giving them greater capacity; think of comparable to the difference between DSL and fiber connections.

Additionally, 1,000 micron-sized LEDs would fit into the space occupied by a single larger 1mm2 LED, with each of these tiny LEDs acting as a separate communication channel. Thus, a 1mm2 sized array of micron-sized LEDs could communicate one million times as much information as one 1mm2 LED, according to the release. In a video accompanying the release, it says the LED lights could transmit data at 1 gigabit per second.

The crazy thing about these tiny LED is that while they are shooting information to one another, they could also be lighting your home or showing you a message or maybe even a picture. So far two companies have spun out of this research group attempting to build out LED-based wireless data transmission: mLED and pureVLC.

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  1. I’ll be pedantic – “digital equivalent of morse code”? Morse code IS digital!

    1. David future Computer Scientist Joe Saturday, February 2, 2013

      Quite so, in a way you are correct. I believe that it more equivalent to Fiber Optics since it too uses light. I would adopt this if it came to us consumers, no RF, no interference, and much lower energy consumption. This is a win for the green people. (Those who conserve and recycle not aliens.)

      Ahh, isn’t modern technology wonderful?

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