Emerging Technologies

(In)visible Light Communication: Combining Illumination and Communication

Communication with light enables a true “Internet of Everything”. Consumer devices transform into interactive communication interfaces when visible light is used to transmit data. Light bulbs, toys, or other electronics and accessories can be used as environmental sensors and act as user interfaces based on their location, play pattern, or other context provided by the internet.

This project demonstrates visible light communication based on light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and low-cost off-the-shelf microcontrollers. LED-based lighting can be used for the Internet-of-Things and related wireless communication services by modulating the intensity of the emitted light. LEDs can also be used as receivers, just like photodiodes. This approach provides the foundation for ubiquitous networking using visible light as a communication medium. Such networks consist of consumer devices with LEDs and light bulbs that can also serve as access points (to connect to other networks) or as fixed points for localization. The technology enables reliable communication over a distance of a few meters.

LED-to-LED communication is a feasible method of bringing low-cost and non-complex connectivity to a large number of LED bulbs and consumer devices. Using the visible light spectrum not only enables a combination of communication and illumination, but also makes it possible to hide data exchange within lighting. This communication is independent from light effects or flickering that human eyes can perceive. Data flow is visible and therefore steerable toward potential receivers.

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Stefan Schmid
Disney Research Zürich, ETH Zürich

Josef Ziegler
ETH Zürich

Thomas R. Gross
ETH Zürich

Manuela Hitz
Disney Research Zürich

Afroditi Psarra
Disney Research Zürich

Giorgio Corbellini
Disney Research Zürich

Stefan Mangold
Disney Research Zürich