In other words, your headlamps could someday broadcast data — not that any automakers are working on that at the moment. And not just your headlamps, but anything that emits artificial light. "Could be with a streetlight, could be with stoplights or stop signs," says Nakamura’s SLD cofounder, Paul Rudy. "Could even be a light bulb inside your house, replacing your Wi-Fi router." If you want to nothing the visible light, these systems work fine in infrared.
That's exciting on the road because cars are dealing with more data than ever before. The tech could be used for vehicle-to-vehicle, or vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. Broadcasting headlamps could replace some of the functionality of current radar systems used for adaptive cruise control and other in-vehicle safety systems, packaging them within a system that already exists, instead of creating yet another detector suite. This would save engineers and designers the trouble of fighting for valuable real estate on a car's front fascia, or behind its windshield.
“It is a struggle just to find a few cubic centimeters to package that radar module and cable and all that , ”Says Tom LeMense. The Detroit-based engineer has worked on radar, lidar, and other automotive communication, safety, and sensing systems for decades, and is a named inventor on more than 20 patents related to these devices. "So a solution that's integrated elsewhere could be interesting."
Too bad the challenges facing the widespread implementation of Li-Fi seem nearly as broad as its potential applications. The first revolves around the fact that the tech requires a visible line of sight, since light doesn’t go around corners or through walls. "If you want to just communicate with the vehicles that you can see around you, then yeah, that's maybe a solution," Le Mense says. "With Li-Fi, you've solved the bandwidth problem, but it's kind of like a bridge to nowhere." (This also holds true for in-home uses. Your phone wouldn't be able to pick up a Li-Fi signal if it was in your pocket. Time to Dad-core up and bring back the belt-borne phone holster?)
Cost is also an issue. Just about all current networked driver assistance technologies operate on the familiar, established, and nearly ubiquitous cellular spectrum. A new setup would mean more spending to build more infrastructure. That would be hard to justify, LeMense says, especially since vehicle-to-vehicle comms mostly entail small amounts of data, like each car’s position, speed, and heading.
That could change as the world moves away from human driving. "Once you've got autonomous cars with all their data needs, you need gigabits or tens of gigabits per second, and you're moving," Rudy says. "So if you're going through a stoplight and you want to do a data exchange, you know you need to do it quick."
Yes, our ephemeral communications may soon require other, invisible spectra to assist their spectral self- driving capabilities. For now, though, the laser fans will have to settle for a better view of the road ahead.
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