New Edinburgh ‘Li-Fi’ firm shows solar panels can also power the internet as light becomes data

Monokristalline Solarmodule vor sonnigem HimmelA new form of wireless data communication using solar energy to create the power for ‘Li-Fi’ technology may bring significant and profound commercial and social benefits to millions of people across the world, according to a new research project at Edinburgh University.

Light is used to transmit data, whilst the solar panel receives high speed data, which, effectively, gives the solar panel the means to provide energy for Li-Fi technology and act as a broadband receiver for Li-Fi

This will have impact particularly for populations in rural communities and the developing world that do not have existing infrastructures for electric power, the internet and Wi-Fi access.

The technology was developed by a research team at Edinburgh University’s Li-Fi R&D Centre, led by Professor Harald Haas, co-founder and chief scientific officer, who said:

“LiFi is a disruptive technology which will shift business models and create opportunities ripe for exploitation. The dominance and lifetime of LED lighting has created a need for new business models in the lighting industry. The need to offer services, including new payment and financing models, creates an unprecedented opportunity for LiFi.

“The need for more capacity for mobile communications has an incredible impact on the need for more spectrum. Specifically, the pending decision on the auction surrounding the 700MHz part of the spectrum in the UK and the possibility of regulation of the unlicensed spectrum, where Wi-Fi and Bluetooth thrive, provide key indicators as to the urgency of the problem. LiFi operates in the unlicensed and safe visible light spectrum where the spacial reuse of bandwidth results in dramatic increases in the overall capacity of a wireless solution.”

At this year’s TED Global 2015 event in London, Professor Haas demonstrated how Li-Fi can be used with solar cells to receive data, thus bringing into sharp focus how the likes of solar panels on houses or other objects such as smart watches, and in fact all future Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices can absorb power and receive data at the same time.

With the help of this technology, smart watches could be powered and connected to the internet through light.

The prototype used in the demonstration was built in a collaborative partnership between the University of Edinburgh’s ground-breaking Li-Fi R&D Centre and pureLiFi Ltd – a University of Edinburgh spin-out company – using the visible light spectrum instead of radio frequencies to enable wireless data communication.

Tom Higgison, Projects Manager at the university’s Edinburgh Research and Innovation unit, said: “This technology combines light-based data communications, or ‘Li-Fi’, with energy harvesting, to create a set of applications not previously anticipated – including in rural broadband access, smart city networks, and the internet of things.

“The wider opportunity is to transform global communications by speeding up the process of bringing internet and other data communication functionality to remote and poorer regions in a way not previously thought achievable due to lack of infrastructure and investment.”

pureLiFi has been shortlisted for a Tech Company of the Year award at the Scottish Business Awards 2015 after raising £1.5 million in investment – valuing the company at some £14 million – earlier this year.

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