Chinese scientists say they have developed LED light bulbs with wireless Internet connectivity, according to news outlet Xinhua. Researchers at Shanghai's Fudan University claim their one-watt LED bulb can connect four computers to the Internet at a speed of 150 megabits per second (Mbps), which is much faster than an average Internet connection in the U.S.

These bulbs, equipped with a microchip that transfers data by quickly flickering light, are based on a concept called visible light communications or light fidelity (Li-Fi).

It’s easy to see the Industrial Internet applications of the Li-Fi technology that meshes the digital world with the world of machines. Take traffic control in streets, for instance. Li-Fi LED backlights of a car can communicate change of speed or a sudden brake to the Li-Fi LED headlights of the car behind it. Similarly, car lights can exchange information with the traffic lights and thus prevent accidents.

The technology can be used to add wireless connectivity to devices in places that do not allow radio frequency, including petrochemical plants and hospital operating rooms. This technology can also enable wireless communication underwater, where wi-fi doesn’t work. Remote vehicles, fitted with these lights, can communicate under the ocean without any radio waves.

Chinese scientists, who plan to display their Li-Fi bulbs this month, are not alone in their attempt to transform LED lights into wireless modems. The technology was first demonstrated by University of Edinburg Professor Harald Haas, who used an LED light bulb to transmit HD video during his TED talk in 2011. His company, pureVLC, hasdemonstrated Li-Fi connections that do not require line of sight between the transmitter and receiver, thus opening a world of possibilities in Industrial Internet applications. Other startups such as OLEDCOMM are experimenting with ways to transmit data via lighting networks in museums, shopping centers, malls, and airports to generate new sources of income.

The rate of data transfer is becoming good too. Representatives of the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute in Germany say they can transmit data at 3 Gbps using LED light bulbs in a laboratory setting. UK researchers at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's ultra-parallel visible light communications project claim data transmission speeds of 10 Gbps are possible.

Experiments like these are promising to turn the vast lighting infrastructure across the globe into an alternate Internet network.

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Pragati Verma

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