Edinburgh academic’s ‘Li-Fi’ system hailed as shining light for future

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AN INNOVATIVE academic at Edinburgh University who devised technology that can transmit wi-fi signals though LED lightbulbs has been named by Time magazine as one of the top inventors of 2011.

Professor Harald Haas, 43, from Morningside, was lauded by Time and online newspaper Huffington Post for his breakthrough technology that could revolutionise wi-fi access and form the catalyst for a multi-billion-pound industry.

The world-renowned publications featured Prof Haas’ trailblazing system in their annual reviews of best new concepts and one to look out for in 2012.

Professor Haas’ system uses electronics to harness the variable light intensity in the bulbs to transmit data wirelessly through light rather than radio frequencies.

A description in Time magazine said: “Like many other great inventors, Haas developed a solution [to carrying increasing amounts of data] using things we have in abundance – chiefly, the world’s 14 billion light bulbs.”

In an article in the Huffington Post, “Li-Fi” – as it is known – was listed among 18 ground-breaking ideas to watch in 2012.

The potential for Li-Fi, suggests Prof Haas, is almost limitless and could lead ultimately to “smart” car technology to prevent collisions and even “smart” homes that intelligently monitors heating and energy output.

Li-Fi was developed as an alternative to carrying data on radio frequencies, which are becoming increasingly crowded with the growth in smartphone and tablet PC use.

Professor Haas, a German national who was a student at Edinburgh University and returned several years ago as a lecturer, said: “For me, the application’s potential now is still beyond the imagination. Everywhere you see a lightbulb there’s a possibility through your smartphone to use it for data communication.

“It can help create smarter homes, smarter environments.”

The system has unique advantages in that it can be used in areas where radio frequency is not desirable, such as hospitals or petrochemical plants, or where radio frequency simply cannot be used, like under- water.

It also benefits from an existing lighting infrastructure and therefore does not require huge investment to fix new apparatus to house the technology.

Prof Haas said he was “pleased and very happy” by the accolades heaped upon his team but stressed they must now realise the product’s potential.

“I feel a lot of burden on our shoulders now to show the world that it’s [the technology] not only for big missions.

“We want to engage with the public, the people and the markets to show that the mission we have sketched out can really be fulfilled.”

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com