Internet of light: now, data can be streamed from ceiling fixtures

'Visible light networks' may offer relief for increasingly clogged radio-wave-based WiFi, 3G, and Bluetooth networks.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Are there too many devices and endpoints clogging up your wireless network?  Forget about radio waves, light waves may be the best way to transmit data.

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AP reports that several city offices in St. Cloud, Minnesota are mounting special ceiling lights that are capable of transmitting data -- via light waves -- to desktop computers equipped with special sensors. The ceiling lights purportedly flicker faster than the eye can see, and transmit code to light sensors attached to the computers.

LVX Systems, which is installing the system, explains on its Website that light-waved based data transmission offers an alternative to congested radio-wave systems that we all now rely on:

Visible Light with Embedded Communication "is a form of high-speed, very secure wireless data communication using visible light.  Traditionally, wireless communication has been, and is now comprised of, radio waves with their related electronic equipment. Examples of these are WI-FI, 3G Networks and Bluetooth. Without exception, they all require magnetic radio waves.

"Visible Light with Embedded Communication is comprised of light photons and can be seen by the human eye. Its related equipment is what looks like a standard lamp that generates its light from LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes or solid state lighting) rather than hot filaments or hot gasses like those used in today’s lamps. The difference is that the solid state LEDs 'modulate' so fast, that though the human eye can’t see this modulation, data information can be carried within this modulated signal, all while lighting your occupied area as traditional lights always have."

The LVX system can transmit data at about three megabits per second, about as fast as a residential DSL line. The light-emitting diodes (LEDs) housed in the standard-sized light fixture transmit coded binary messages to the special modems, which also respond via light waves.

Interestingly, the St. Cloud city government was mainly interested in the energy efficiency and savings offered by the LED lighting technology, and the network access capabilities were a secondary benefit, the AP article observes. Such smart lighting, LVX says, "can be managed by computers in ways that will save lamp energy from 30-80%. Our solid state lighting offers an intelligent lighting solution that can automatically illuminate areas when they become occupied and reduce lighting in areas that are unoccupied."

At this time, no studies are available to measure the impact of rapidly flickering lights on the people working beneath them. Perhaps some future study down the road will show being bombarded with optical 1s and 0s will be a source of migraines and eyestrain?  We will see. But the idea of moving at least some Internet access to light waves is a very compelling one.

(Photo: Joe McKendrick)

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