Solar energy to power future wireless communication

Edinburgh Research & Innovation (ERI) – the commercialisation arm of the University of Edinburgh – is now looking for industrial partners to work with its Li-Fi R&D Centre to develop the technology for commercial use…

Solar energy could become a future source of wireless communication, according to the University of Edinburgh, which says it has developed a ground-breaking technology to distribute the internet to every corner of the world at little more than the cost of a solar panel and an LED light.
The technology will bring significant and profound commercial and social benefits to millions of people across the world, claims the University’s Li-Fi R&D (Research & Development) Centre, which has developed a new form of wireless data communication to create the power for Li-Fi technology.
According to academics, this will have a huge impact – particularly on populations in rural communities and the developing world which don’t have existing infrastructures for electric power, the internet and Wi-Fi access.
Four billion people across the world currently have no access to the internet, for example.
The new technology combines light communication and energy harvesting from solar panels. Light is used to transmit data, while the solar panel receives high-speed data which, effectively, gives the solar panel the means to provide energy for Li-Fi technology and act as a broadband receiver.
The research team responsible is led by professor Harald Haas, who demonstrated how Li-Fi can be used with solar cells to receive data and how the likes of solar panels on houses or other objects such as smart watches – and all future Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices – can absorb power and receive data at the same time at this year’s TED Global event in London.
According to Haas, with the help of this technology, smart watches could be powered and connected to the internet through light.
The prototype used in the demonstration was built in a collaborative partnership between the University of Edinburgh’s Li-Fi R&D Centre and pureLiFi Ltd, a University of Edinburgh spin-out company, widely acknowledged as the global pioneers of using the visible light spectrum instead of radio frequencies to enable wireless data communication.
Edinburgh Research & Innovation (ERI) – the commercialisation arm of the University of Edinburgh – is now looking for industrial partners to work with the University’s Li-Fi R&D Centre to develop the technology for commercial use.
Tom Higgison, ERI’s IP projects manager said: “This University of Edinburgh technology combines light based data communications, or ‘Li-Fi’, with energy harvesting, to create an exciting set of applications not previously anticipated including in rural broadband access, smart city networks, and the internet of things.
“The wider opportunity is to transform global communications by speeding up the process of bringing internet and other data communication functionality to remote and poorer regions in a way not previously thought achievable due to lack of infrastructure and investment.”
Haas has stressed that over four billion people worldwide do not have access to the internet and with little energy infrastructure in developing countries to support traditional broadband and Wi-Fi, solar energy can bring transformational change to this situation.
He said: “The potential expansion to the internet is massive and my aspiration is that this broadband solar panel receiver technology for Li-Fi will help solve the challenges of the digital divide throughout the world, and catalyse the uptake of the IoT as connectivity and battery-free power supplies are essential if we want to connect a trillion objects to the internet. ”
The research carried out by the University of Edinburgh Li-Fi R&D Centre focuses on the integration of power gathering and data-reception at solar panels and turning them into communication devices. In effect, solar cells within the panel become communications nodes that receive high bandwidth data whilst also providing electrical power for the nodes’ operation.
These self-powered nodes will remove a major barrier to data communication growth. In conventional optical wireless communications, the steady background component of the received optical signal is usually discarded, but can instead be used to directly power to the receiving terminal.
Edinburgh Research & Innovation (ERI) is a UK leader in commercialising research and entrepreneurship. As the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation (technology transfer) office, ERI seek to promote the University’s world-class research and commercialisation expertise to potential funders, collaborators, licensees or investors.
A recent economic impact report revealed that this activity contributes over £164 million annually to the UK economy and supporting nearly 3,000 jobs.
Watch Haas’s most recent talk on this technology breakthrough at TED Global 2015 

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