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Move over Wi-Fi, here comes Li-Fi
September 28, 2015, 4:16 pm

Linux Light Bulbs — a protocol for a communications system that transmits data using visible light communication, or VLC, technology — was revealed last week by researchers at Disney.

Linux Light Bulbs communicate with each other and with other VLC devices, such as toys, wearable devices and clothing, over the Internet Protocol. In essence, they could establish a light-based Li-Fi network that would function in much the same way that Wi-Fi works.

However, currently, the throughput is critically small compared to Wi-Fi or other visible light approaches, and the technology suffers from proximity limitations as the transmitter and receiver must be within line of sight of each other.

Modern light-emitting diode light bulbs, or LEDs, can provide a foundation for networking using visible light as a communication medium, according to the Disney researchers' report. The team modified common commercial LED light bulbs to send and receive visible light signals. They built a system on a chip (SoC), running the Linux operating system, a VLC controller module with the protocol software, and an additional power supply for the added electronics.

Data transfer solutions like Wi-Fi require specialized equipment, installation and maintenance. However, light fixtures are virtually everywhere. Since LED represents the future of commercial lighting, developers are suggesting that VLC capabilities could easily be enabled in existing homes and businesses without the need for expensive extraneous system.

Applications such as using light to extend the range of a WiFi signal are within reason and auto industry researchers have been investigating the incorporation of VLC tech into headlights and sensors to allow cars to communicate with each other and thus avoid collisions.

On the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) side, VLC would provide an easy way of connecting endpoint sensors to back-end systems without needing to build expensive, dedicated networks. One of the lowest data rate uses for VLC and the IoT is for automatic door openers equipped with light sensors at the lock. Point your smartphone at the door and flash a modulated-light app with a specific code to open the door. Such a system would work for homes, hotels, garages and more.

Another use is modulating streetlights to deliver specific information, such as alerts and emergencies, across an entire city. It also could be used to safeguard top secret communications between coworkers.

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