Laser Lighting, LiFi And LiDAR – Enabling Transportation Safety and Autonomy – Forbes
Figure 1: Crossword puzzle showing LIFI keywords as dice on a white board communication concept flat … [+]
WiFi is embedded in our lives today. The term originated about four decades ago (as a marketing ploy, designed to rhyme with the term “Hi-Fi”) and has revolutionized personal communications, internet access, social media and the Internet of Things (IoT). WiFi uses modulated radio waves for short-range wireless data communications. DSRC (dedicated short-range communications). The technology proved critical during the recent pandemic, allowing students to continue learning and many professionals to work remotely. At this point, it is a basic staple of life – like water and electricity. LiFi uses the same idea, except it uses modulated visible light rather than radio waves. It is poised to revolutionize multiple applications, a key one being V2X (Vehicle to X where X could be vehicles, traffic infrastructure, roadway lighting, etc.) communications which is a critical enabler for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVE).
Harald Haas, a professor at the University of Strathclyde/Glasgow, gave a seminal TED talk titled “Wireless Data from Every Light Bulb” in 2011. The presentation included a physical demonstration of real-time video transmission using a visible LED-based lightbulb. He coined the term LiFi (Light Fidelity) and painted a compelling picture of how it could deliver ever-increasing data requirements using the installed base of billions of lightbulbs in public spaces and automobiles. Professor Haas discussed four key issues that traditional WiFi (using radio waves) faces – availability, efficiency, capacity and security. LiFi has the potential to solve these by orders of magnitude, using an already installed base of lighting infrastructure. Smart transportation (through the use of smart vehicles and infrastructure) can leverage these advantages to enhance safe autonomy and efficiency.
The past decade has seen an increased proliferation of LED-based lighting in homes, industries, cars and traffic infrastructure. Along with more efficient and environmentally friendly lighting, LiFi applications have also grown in aviation, healthcare, consumer electronics, defense, and industrial applications. Studies indicate a ~$6B market in 2020, growing by a factor of > 10X by 2025. Multiple players ranging from venture-funded start-ups to large players like Panasonic and Phillips Lighting are active in this area. The opportunity is compelling, especially in a world where the volume of data is exploding and accessing this data efficiently is imperative. There are challenges – fluorescent lighting needs to be replaced by LED bulbs with modulating electronics, communications infrastructure and software have to be deployed, and operability standards need to be finalized (the IEEE 802.11 bb Light Communication Standard is currently under development).
More recently, laser-based headlamps have emerged. The technology for producing high-power, white laser illumination (400-700 nm wavelength) using a combination of blue laser diodes (440-450 nm wavelength) coupled to a luminescent phosphor was developed at Soraa Laser Diodes (SLD, acquired by Kyocera in 2020, to form Kyocera SLD or KSLD). Its founders include Dr. Shuji Nakamura who won the Nobel prize in 2014. Professor Haas and John Peek (ex-CTO of Phillips Automotive Lighting) are on their advisory board. Their flagship automotive product is the LaserLight™ engine which provides high-intensity lighting to illuminate the roadway at a 650 m range (1 km is possible, but is currently constrained by regulations). These light sources have been in production since 2019 for the BMW’s Series 5 model, and more recently for the iX3 and iX4 electric SUVs.
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