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U.S. 'smart lighting' effort targets LED-based wireless nets

October 08, 2008 //

A "smart lighting" initiative being funded by the government seeks to piggyback wireless communications capabilities onto future LED lighting installations to provide more broadband access points.


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PORTLAND, Ore. A "smart lighting" initiative being funded by the government seeks to piggyback wireless communications capabilities onto future LED lighting installations to provide more broadband access points.

The $18.5 million, 10-year National Science Foundation program involves more than 30 university researchers from Boston University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque).

The initiative seeks to use visible light beams for communications between wireless devices and LED-based lighting fixtures. The LED-based scheme could also be used to communicate between automobiles that are increasingly using LEDs. The overall goal is to build new communications capbilities into all LED lights while alleviating congestion in current RF bands.

"There is a long history of communications of this type with infrared, and there is the infrared data association--IRDA--that has had protocols for many years for things like PDAs, printers and laptops," said professor Thomas Little at Boston University. "What we are doing is seizing this opportunity to embed networking in the [LED] lighting revolution. As incandescent and fluorescent bulbs get replaced, we hope to embed a networking technology into [LED] lighting."

Boston University's Thomas Little holds a prototype LED bulb with built-in visible light transceivers.

Light-based communications capabilities that now use infrared LEDs, such as remote controls, will be adapted to using visible light so that transceivers in digital devices can communicate with lighting fixtures. The fixtures would be hard-wired to the Internet. Unlike RF-based Wi-Fi access nodes, which must share spectrum will all users, line-of-sight communications via visible light could enable separate data streams to be fed to each device.

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