Harald Haas: Wireless Data From Every Light Bulb

We have the ability to transmit data via the energy that surrounds us — through the LED lighting that illuminates our worlds. In this 2011 TED Talk: Wireless Data from Every Light Bulb, Harold Haas describes how he became motivated to find an alternative to our current system of wireless data transmission due to our increasing dependence upon it, despite the many limitations within it. What he has discovered may just change the world of data science.

Citing weaknesses that include capacity (the radio waves we currently use are limited by scarcity, expense, and range), efficiency (cellular base stations consume a great deal of energy), availability, and security, he describes how his light-fidelity (Li-Fi) wireless data transmission system through LED lighting solves these issues in our current RF system. As a semiconductor, the intensity of LED can be modulated at very high speeds and exploited with our technology to transmit thousands of data streams in parallel through SIM OFDM. This technology can be applied wherever there is LED lighting, which includes some environments in which RF is not currently permitted.

To this end, Haas’ brilliant approach adds value by addressing the four limitations of our current wireless systems, as well as creating the opportunity for wireless data transmission in places never thought possible. By fitting a microchip to every potential illumination device, two functionalities are created in one: illumination and wireless data transmission. “Using the visible light spectrum, which comes for free, you can piggy-back existing wireless services on the back of lighting equipment.” It’s a symbiosis that Haas believes may solve the four essential problems of wireless communications today.

Harold Haas is a professor of engineering at Edinburgh University who has spent many years studying different methods for communicating electronic data signals. His latest work, the D-Light system, uses the mathematical technique of OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) to create signals that can be picked up by a variety of simple receivers. His vision is data transmission in this framework at future rates of up to 1 GB, providing services that are much less limited than what is available to us today.