LEDs may double as wireless access points

In an interesting application of energy-efficient lighting, researchers at the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center hope to embed networking capabilities into LEDs. They envision an LED-lit room where your computer, thermostat, television and PDAs can communicate with each other wirelessly. The National Science Foundation-backed lighting research team, which consists of engineers from Boston University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the University of New Mexico, foresees optical communications systems similar to how a television and its remote work together, except using visible light instead of infrared. In the near future, LED lighting is expected to begin replacing incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs. Though expensive now, their efficiency often makes up for it: LEDs can last between 6 and 10 times longer than CFLs, and they far outstrip incandescents. Once low-power LED lighting is widespread, a vast network tied to lighting can emerge. Unlike CFLs and incandescent bulbs, LED lights can be turned on and off very rapidly, fast enough that the human eye doesn't notice. Patterns could be embedded into that on/off flickering to transmit data without harming the perceivable quality of room lighting. The fast-moving field of photonics has been developing to the point where almost every aspect of light can now be controlled and modulated, opening up new possibilities for how it can be used to perform unexpected tasks.