Wireless Data From Every Light Bulb [Video]

What if every light bulb in the world could also transmit data? At TEDGlobal, Harald Haas demonstrates, for the first time, a device that could do exactly that. By flickering the light from a single LED, a change too quick for the human eye to detect, he can transmit far more data than a cellular tower — and do it in a way that’s more efficient, secure and widespread.



10 Responses to Wireless Data From Every Light Bulb [Video]

  1. Would a signal to the server use the same technology? Otherwise the data stream is one directional.

  2. My biggest question about this is, how would the transmission of the data affect epileptics? Rapidly-flashing lights can cause a seizure in those with epilepsy, but I'm not sure how slowly the lights would need to be flickering.

    • These bulbs would be flickering millions of times faster than the human eye can see, they'd need to blink fast enough to keep up with tens, hundreds, thousands of megabytes per second. Every flicker would be only 2 bits, one on and one off, so even at the slowest common wireless speeds today (52 Megabits per second) you get 52 x 1024 Kilobits in a Megabit x 1024 bits in a Kilobit, divided by two bits per flicker, which equals 27,262,976 blinks per second, at least if the bulb is constantly signaling "0-1-0-1-0-1-0-1-0-1…" Any time the bulb is not constantly doing that (which it usually wouldn't be, for the data to mean anything), there would actually be less blinking.

      In a nutshell, to the human eye, the bulb would always appear to be on with a steady light, because the dim moments would be way too short and fast for anyone to notice. Our brains probably couldn't even detect the changes in the light because it's outside our threshold of perception, so there would be no chance of having a seizure.

    • Shouldn’t pose any problems at all. For instance, a normal flourescent light blinks at about 50 to 120 hertz depending on what the standard is in your country. Seeing how the hertz of such a device would be much greater – he spoke in the video of the 20khz

      of a remote control being too slow – there is no way this would cause seizures. Not seeing how the very slow 50 hertz lights do not cause seizures (but they can cause headaches in the same way old monitors used to when set too a low hertz).

      Funny experiment: Take a paper tube or a rolled up poster, give it to a friend and have him stand under a flourescent light. Make him do his best star wars impressions with the paper light saber. As you observe the roll of paper, you will notice how the movements appear kind of choppy, due to the low hertz. Works best in europe where 50 hz is the standard. You could just wave your hand in front of your face while holding it up to the light, but this is so much more fun.

  3. Does this mean that in the future cities could send data through the power grid, working as routers and everyone with these electronic bulbs installed will be able to just turn on the light and start receiving WIFI at home?

  4. so if data is transmitted via light i guess noone will ever carry their phones in their pockets or purse again . kinda hard to get light in there lol and there go the phones if the power goes out. and if they keep up the cell phone towers as back up it does not become cleaner or greener due to the fact of now still have the same towers but also have more expensive bulbs and phones and i dont know about you but i was raised to turn off the lights when i go to bed lol. i can see the usages in other areas such as cheap to free internet access for everyone

    • "i dont know about you but i was raised to turn off the lights when i go to bed lol"
      He already told a solution for this: the lights are on but you can't see them because it can be modulated to be very dim.

  5. yeah how is it going to work when you have your phone in your pocket.. and i'd say it should have several sensors around the phone. otherwise we'd be back to the "you're holding your iPhone wrong" thing.. and it's a line of sight technology. when he covered the hole the video stopped. so that's kind of limiting.

  6. Presumes the 'lightbulb' to be an LED source, which is a solid state high switching potential diode.

    Nothing new with this sorry to say. That''s how remote control for your TV, stereo, etc, work already.

    The Australian Coles Meyer 'Supermarket of the Future' project (mid 1990s) utilised the flourescent lighting as the carrier of a data stream that cycled shelf prices which were displayed on LCDs located with the items. Directional LEDs were also trialled. Similar one way stream as found with the TeleText service that goes out as binary in the top lines (around line 48 i think) of a tv broadcast signal which are before the viewing image portion of the signal.

    Early film frame rate was 18 frames per second, which is just above threshold of our vision due to the lag associated with persistence. It went to 24 fps to smooth out rapid movement within the image frame and then PAL standard adopted 25fps to help sync things back using mains frequency of 50hz.

    3D shutter glasses rapidly switched one eye on, other eye off as each of the (old) interlace frames wizzed through. This is now achieved with 100hz and 200hz flat panels where the technology can progressively update the display at higher rates than could be achieved economically with electron gun based CRT.

    Line of sight is not absolutely necessary with non-visual spectrum such as IR, which is one neat way of doing micro-airship control inside of buildings or hand held short range remote control.

    Would appear to be new and exciting voodoo for those pups who haven't studied their histories.

    But am sure Mr Hass was sincere and enthused by it all.

  7. New or not, the idea of re-wiring an infrastructure that we already have set up in order to transmit high levels of data to wireless devices (be it a phone, laptop, car computers, medical devices, ect) could be very beneficial. Even if IR was the more desirable spectrum (I'm not saying it isn't, I'm saying I don't know anything about IR so I couldn't call it either way), LEDs would still be the better method, just because we already have a system of lights set up globally.

    I think that was the point of what he was saying, rather than saying it was this new, starry-eyed idea: we already have plenty of light everywhere, why not use it to transmit data as well?

    It is also true that it is limited. It does require line-of-sight to use properly. However, I still think it could be used for systems that are constantly exposed to artificial light (like the aforementioned cars and medical devices), and possibly as a secondary (or tertiary, depending on how much you like your cellphone's wi-fi capabilites) data transmission system for personal wireless devices. that way, your phone would still work while in your pocket, albeit at much lower speeds.

    So yes, it is limited in several ways, but the idea certainly has its upsides. If set up properly, I can see this as being a good, cheap form of data transmission for remote and international use.