LEDs Transmit Data

A recent TedTalk about LED lights has garnered about a million and a half views. That high number isn’t surprising, given that LEDs have been making headlines a lot, lately. Tons of informational articles about the efficiency of LED light bulbs and how to choose them have been circulating online. But this TedTalk is about something quite different – data transmission.

via www.cnn.com

The talk was given by Harold Haas, Chair of Mobile Communications at the University of Edinburgh, who coined the term LiFi, or light fidelity, to refer to a visible light communications (VLC) system. LiFi uses LEDs, which, of course, are electronic semi-conductors, as a medium to deliver networked, mobile, high-speed communication.

The big vision here is that Haas’s LiFi could lead to what is being called the “Internet of Things.” The what of what? The internet of things refers to a vision of future connectivity, in which EVERYTHING electronic would be connected to the internet. Every electronic thing, from overhead lights to automatic can openers, would be able to talk to teach other.

On my computer, I could type something like this: “COMPUTER, I NEED COFFEE. TELL MY COFFEE MAKER TO MAKE ME SOME DANG COFFEE!” Within minutes, that familiar smell would let me know that my electronic servants have done my bidding. Thank you, electronic servants.

So how does this work? What role do LEDs play?

Well, it’s actually very cool. LED lamps are able to facilitate VLC technology because LEDs can turn on and off so very, very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that it is undetectable by the human eye. VLC systems communicate with each other through the very rapid blinking of LED lights. This blinking can occur at light levels so dim that the human eye cannot tell that the light is turned on at all. Pretty crazy, right?

This new, potentially world-changing technology comes at the right time. Electronic devices that connect to the internet and communicate across networks using WiFi rely on radio waves. While the US Federal Communications Commission has warned of a potential spectrum crisis because WiFi is close to full capacity, LiFi has almost no limitations on capacity because it communicates within the spectrum of VISIBLE LIGHT. It’s safe, clean, and virtually limitless.

You can hear it from Dr. Haas himself in this video. Enjoy, and remember: blink-blink, blink, blink-blink. Oh, I’m sorry, I was speaking VLC.

Tom Sowders

After majoring in creative writing at NC State, I worked in the home remodeling industry. Then, I attended graduate school for a really long time and gained experience as a writer and writing instructor. I live in the Raleigh-Durham area with my wife and baby boy, and you can find me around the Triangle anywhere there's good music and/or NC-style BBQ.