Is Li-Fi the new Wi-Fi?

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Led panel in fluorescent lightIn brief, no.

Well not yet anyway. But the technology is coming along, and the possible applications are pretty exciting for product designers and developers.

What is Li-Fi?

Li-Fi has captured the imaginations of techies and designers ever since Professor Harald Haas gave a TED lecture and coined the term in 2011.

Haas’s technology allows users to transmit data via LED (light-emitting diode) lights. Essentially, this means that all of our mobile phones and laptops could be accessing wireless data/internet through LEDs in the ceiling.

As anyone who works in an office will tell you, the trouble with Wi-Fi routers is that multiple connected devices can start to interfere with each other in enclosed spaces.

With connected devices becoming more popular, it is predicted that Wi-Fi networks will struggle to cope with demand going forwards.

When Haas gave his TED lecture back in 2011 he offered us an image of a supremely connected future.

Broadband would be everywhere, pumped into devices from standardised LED bulbs. Eventually radio waves would become obsolete as we transmit data the easy way.

The future is now

Companies around the globe have been competing to build and develop this technology. Big names like Franhofer Telecommunications in Germany as well as Disney and NASA in the USA are all working on the technology and its applications.

NASA are working with a pioneering company called LVX System to apply the technology to space flight. On their website, LVX  System claims that they are the first to patent the Li-Fi technology. And they offer to install VLC products in public and private buildings.

Researchers at Disney have noted that Li-Fi could have dramatic consequences for the Internet of Things (IoT).

IoT will eventually connect lots of objects and ‘things’ (mugs, clothes, toothbrushes, lawnmowers) to the internet. If these objects are fitted with small LEDs then they’ll be able to interact with humans and other objects more easily.

For their part, Disney is interested in how these technologies can be applied to toys. If Disney could embed LEDs into their stuffed toys, for example, then children could control them via the internet.

Li-Fi in the UK

In many spheres of science and technology, the UK has earned a reputation for doing the research which can lead to breakthroughs, but failing to capitalise by turning technology into marketable applications. Graphene is a prime example.

In a lot of ways, Li-Fi breaks this pattern. Professor Harald Haas, the man who coined the term Li-Fi is the chair of mobile communications at Edinburgh University where he has completed much of his research.

Haas also set up a company called pureLiFi which began selling its first products late last year. The company has been relatively quick to market. However, the scope and ambition of pureLiFi seems to pale in comparison to the likes of Disney and NASA.

The Li-Fi industry is projected to grow to over $9 billion by 2020. Designers who can create a knockout Li-Fi enabled product here in the UK will be handsomely rewarded.

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