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LED The Way

How to stop global warming and hackers with the flip of a light switch.


LED lights have spent some time in the spotlight lately — be it as eco alternatives to Christmas lights or as cool little sidekicks in wow-projects like the Chronophage Clock. Turns out, however, that they could be the springboard for the next big leap in wireless technology.

Engineers at Boston University have just launched Smart Lighting, a program using low-power LED’s to develop the next generation of data communications and network technology — basically, making LED light the equivalent of a WiFi hot spot. And it would all be done over existing power lines with low power consumption, high reliability and no electromagnetic interference.

This technology would enable you to come home, flip a light switch, and have your iPod, thermostat, TiVo, Sirius and Wii instantly start communicating with you. No wires, no plugs, no routers.

The project is taking advantage of our inevitable switch from incandescent to CFL to LED light bulbs over the next few years as we try to, you know, not drown in the melting ice caps. Once enough LED’s are in place, they’d provide the infrastructure for this next-generation communication infrastructure.

Plus, since white light can’t penetrate opaque surfaces like walls, the technology would be much more secure than today’s radio-frequency-based WiFi — this means no “eavesdroppers,” no hackers, no pesky neighbors leeching onto your already feeble open wireless.

The technology relies on LED’s ability to be rapidly switched on and off with no detection by the human eye. Because data transmission comes down to patterns of 1’s and 0’s, flickering an LED light in such patterns won’t cause any noticeable change in room lighting.

We’re anxious to see where all this goes — with today’s increasing fragmentation of technology, it seems like more is invested in developing things to mediate the effects of other things (like your $300 noise-cancellation earphones to silence your roommate’s $1,000 Bose, which he uses to unwind after 15 hours in front of his $2,500 MacBook Pro), so we’re glad to see technology that focuses on cross-functionality and efficiency, utilizing what’s already there to minimize peripherals and maximize data communication.

You go, geeks.

(Thanks, @jowyang.)

Published October 8, 2008




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