Based at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, the scientists’ product — known as Li-Fi — is being developed in order to transmit the internet through visible light instead of microwaves. As part of a four-year program, funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), it is hoped that lighting components can be used to include wireless transmission as a complementary component in LED-based products.
When LED-lit displays — such as television and smartphone screens — are in use, light-emitting diodes flicker thousands of times a second. If the length of these flickers can be adjusted, it is possible to send out digital information as well as produce light. Potentially, “Li-Fi” could then be used to lessen the burden on bloating spectrum bands.
Rather than using LEDs that are 1mm2 sized, the EPSRC-funded team is developing micron-sized LEDs that can flicker on and off approximately 1,000 times quicker. Due to this, they can transfer data more rapidly. In addition, each micron-sized LED would also act as a minute pixel, so screens containing the new brand of LEDs would be able to produce light as well as a conduit for digital information at the same time.
Professor Martin Dawson of the University of Strathclyde, who is leading the project, said:
“Imagine an 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.”
Eventually, it may also be possible for Li-Fi carrying LEDs to have sensor capabilities — for example, connecting barcode price information of products to be automatically shown on your mobile phone.
The Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford and St Andrews are all also participating in the project, which will be ongoing until 2016.