Inventor Harald Haas has built the first prototype of a solar router that uses light instead of wires to transmit data for the internet. Haas first gained attention with a 2011 a TED talk, during which he introduced the idea of wireless internet that runs on an LED light bulb. Since then, there have been several breakthroughs in light-based communication from researchers in Texas, Oregon, and NASA, to name a few recent examples. Now Haas has taken LiFi from concept to protype, in a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh’s Li-Fi R&D centre and a related company called pureLiFi LTD. The prototype relies on solar energy—an LED light source paired with a solar panel becomes a fully functional transmitter and receiver system for data transfer.
This new technology could change the way we communicate. In his 2011 TED talk, Haas said that light-based technology would address four major weaknesses of Wi-Fi: capacity (because radio waves are limited), efficiency (traditional base stations consume a lot of energy), availability, and security. Li-Fi has several major advantages over the radio-based communication we use today. It is much faster—theoretically, data transfer speeds via light would be 1,000 faster than wires. Another huge benefit is that Li-Fi is more secure, since you can’t eavesdrop on light-based data transfer the way you can with radio waves. Finally, unlike Wi-Fi, there is no need to worry about interference from nearby electronic devices because light is unaffected by RF-emitting equipment.
In his talk, Haas said, “the applications of it, to me, are beyond imagination at the moment.” Now, this technology—which seemed futuristic just a few years ago—has a working prototype that suggests LED lights could replace wires very soon.