We all rely on radio waves and electricity for communications, and the circuits which make up our computers. But these are both notoriously volatile–you have to turn off your cell phone during takeoff so you don’t interfere with the pilot’s radio signal, and if you touch the circuits of a computer while it’s on, something’s toast (you or the computer).
But there are some new concepts and technologies which might fix this, and change the electrical/computer engineering world down the road. And they all have to do with light.
The first is a new technology which would let light act as a data transmitter for a wireless network. It’s got a limited range compared to radio waves, but if you think about it you have lights everywhere in your house. They could all be rigged to transmit. And according to this video, the lights don’t even have to be noticeably lit.
This technology has been nicknamed “LiFi”
Something like this would be really handy if there were a cheap way to rig every lightbulb in the world. Right now there’s not, but LED lightbulbs are just hitting the market, and an add-on to hook it up to a network wouldn’t be that tough. And according to a PhysOrg news article, this technology is intended to supplement existing networks, rather than replace it.
Another one was mentioned in our previous blog post: some Duke University electrical engineers developed a material as a ‘proof of concept,’ which allowed them to manipulate light that mimics how existing electronics manipulate electrons. This means that a future circuit board might instead use light–you could handle it without damaging anything. Light is also more efficient, since photons are faster when unimpeded. This one was to be expected, since internet lines around the country (world, really) are being replaced with fiber-optic cables. It’s because they’re faster, cheaper, and more reliable.
What does this mean for you? As a future electrical or computer engineer, you might have to work with the yet-to-be-established communication standards for LiFi. And computer engineers (or even computer scientists) might have to deal with fail-safe procedures, for what to do if the light source gets blocked.
It also means that we might be getting a new field of engineering: light engineers. They’re just like electrical engineers, but they might light computers. Lightputers. (There’s got to be a better pun for that)
Read what I read:
- ISPreview article: “Scientists Use LED Light Bulbs to Make 800Mbps Capable Wireless Network.”
- PhysOrg news: “Data are traveling by light.”
- ScienceDaily release: “Research Could Help Replace Electronic Components With Optical Technology.”