Let’s face it; wires are a pain. They get tangled, they can be expensive, and you never seem to have the right connectors when you need them. But they work. They are fast and reliable, unlike wireless connections that can get bogged down from other traffic or interference.
[Credit: Fraunhofer IPMS]
The researchers at the German research and development organization Fraunhofer IPMS think that they have a better idea. Instead of using wires or radio waves, they want to use light to transfer data. The drawback is that the sending and receiving devices must have a clear line-of-sight between them – no sending data through walls – but the benefits could be enormous.
The group has developed “Giga-IR” which uses invisible infra-red light to transmit data. This technology is much more sophisticated than the simple flashes made by your television’s remote control. Instead, the devices on both sides of the transmission have transceivers that can both send and receive information. The first devices to be demonstrated use a standard USB 2.0 interface to connect to the sending and receiving units, and then use light to transfer the data. The demonstration devices will be capable of up to 3 Gb/s (one gigabit per second) transfer rates, though future implementations could reach 10 Gb/s.
According to a Fraunhofer IPMS press release, typical wireless transfers only support transfer rates of 20 to 50 percent of the theoretical gross transfer rate. In contrast, their new light-based technology operates at error rates as low as 10-9 (one error in one billion bits). Perhaps even more significant is the fact that the light transfers require only 15 percent as much power, compared with typical radio-wave technologies such as WiFi or Bluetooth. The reason for this is that instead of having to broadcast the radio signal in all directions, the light beam is aimed directly at the other device so much less energy is required. Reducing the power required for wireless transfers can translate into smaller mobile devices and longer-lasting batteries.
All of this is done using invisible infra-red light which is unregulated, unlike the radio spectrum that is used by other wireless interfaces. And because the transfer protocols are baked right into the hardware, there are no separate apps or drivers that you need to run on your computer or mobile device.
And as they say on the late night infomercials, but wait! There’s more! Not only does light offer a way to move data wirelessly as fast or even faster than you get over wires, it could also be used to recharge your mobile device as well. According to Fraunhofer IPMS, their new demonstration devices will even be able to transfer energy. This means that the same interface used to transfer data could also be used to recharge your mobile device, all without wires.
Fraunhofer IPMS will demonstrate these new devices at Electronica 2012, November 13 through 16, in Munich, Germany.