Washington, October 7 : Scientists at Boston University's College of Engineering are working on a new project to develop the next generation of wireless communications technology, based on visible light instead of radio waves.
The program, supported by a National Science Foundation grant, is expected to improve data communications capabilities by creating "Smart Lighting" that would be faster and more secure than current network technology.
"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," said BU Engineering Professor Thomas Little.
"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 researcher added.
Known as the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, the 18.5million-dollar initiative is part of a multi-year NSF program awarded to Boston University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of New Mexico to develop the optical communication technology, which would make a low-power light emitting diode (LED) light the equivalent of a WiFi access point.
The researcher associated with the project say that, one day, the innovative alternative might help replace most of today's lighting devices.
"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," Little said.
He envisions indoor optical wireless communications systems that use white LED lighting within a room, akin to the television remote control device, to provide Internet connections to computers, personal digital assistants, television and radio reception, telephone connections and thermostat temperature control.
He thinks that a vast network of light-based communication can be established with the aid of widespread LED lighting, and that such a network will have the potential to offer users greater bandwidth than current RF technology.
Since this white light does not penetrate opaque surfaces such as walls, he adds, there is a higher level of security because eavesdropping is not possible.
Little says that LED lights consume far less energy than RF technology, and thus offer the opportunity to build a communication network without added energy costs and reducing carbon emissions over the long term.
The researcher says that the technology may even be useful for outdoor applications, such as in the automotive industry.
"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," Little said.