Samantha Foss
Samantha Foss

Visible Light Communication: The Next Generation of Wireless Technology

Even though most people are only just beginning to reap the rewards of 5G wireless technology, researchers worldwide have already begun making waves on the 6G.

Samantha Foss says that perhaps the biggest breakthrough in 6G telecommunications to date is the potential of VLC or Visible Light Communication, a wireless type of fiber optics utilizing light flashes to transport information.

Recently, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst announced they developed an inexpensive, innovative method to procure the waste energy from VLC by utilizing the human body. In their approach, the body acts as an antenna to transmit the waste energy and recycle it for powering wearable devices.

Visible Light Communication Has the Potential to Power the World’s Future

Jie Xiong, a professor of information and computer sciences at the university, is the paper’s senior author. Xiong states that VLC uses the light from LEDs to send information instead of radio signals. Such LEDs can switch on and off at one million per second.

The most attractive feature of VLC technology is that developed countries already have the infrastructure. Homes, streetlights, offices, and even vehicles are lit with LED bulbs. The research highlights that all of these items can be used to transmit data, making anything with a camera (e.g., tablets, laptops, smartphones, etc.) able to receive the information.

The Study’s Process

Initially, Xiong and Minhao Cui, the first author, showed considerable energy leakage in VLC systems since LEDs also give off “side-channel RF signals.”

Upon this realization, the team designed an antenna from copper wire to collect the leaked energy. While this worked, they wanted to maximize the collection.

After much deliberation and failed attempts, Cui had a brainwave — what would happen when the coil worked with the human body?

Instantly, it was clear that the body was the best mechanism for amplifying the coil’s collection ability. It’s able to collect up to ten times more than the coil alone.

Samantha Foss

Bracelet+: The Simple Gadget Equipped to Power Wearable Smart Devices

Following the study, the UMass Amherst team developed Bracelet+, an ultra-simple copper wire coil worn on the upper forearm like a standard bracelet.

As per their research, the design can be altered and worn as a belt, anklet, necklace, or ring. However, upon further inspection, the bracelet seems to provide the optimal balance of collecting energy leakage and offering comfortable (and fashionable) wearability.

The paper’s authors, which garnered the Best Paper Award from the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Embedded Networked Sensor Systems, say that Bracelet+ costs less than fifty cents to create.

Despite the cheap design, the bracelet can harness up to micro-watts. That’s enough to support a range of sensors, including wearable health monitoring devices (e.g., smartwatches) that need very little power to work, thanks to their long sleep-mode feature and low sampling frequency.

VLC To Power the Globe’s Future

Xiong states that, ideally, they are looking to collect waste energy from a range of sources to power much of the future’s technology.