Research team demonstrates LEDs that use visible light to talk to each other and internet

September 11, 2015, Disney Research

The light that typically floods homes, offices and public buildings could provide something more than illumination. Scientists at Disney Research and ETH Zurich have demonstrated that light could be a medium for light bulbs to communicate - with each other, with objects and with the Internet.

Transmitting signals via is nothing new; Alexander Graham Bell showed that speech could be conveyed with light in the 1880s, years before speech was first transmitted via radio. The Disney researchers, however, have created networking technology that makes it possible for LED lights not only to communicate with each other, but to do so in a way that is compatible with the Internet and its technical protocols.

Stefan Mangold, who heads Disney Research's wireless research group, says these advances could give Visible Light Communication (VLC) an important role in the growing Internet of Things - the idea that objects can communicate with each other and share information to create smart environments.

"Communication with light enables a true Internet of Things as consumer devices that are equipped with LEDs but not radio links could be transformed into interactive communication nodes," Mangold said. "We're not just talking about sensors, smartphones and appliances. This easily could include toys that have LEDs, creating an Internet of Toys in which toys can be accessed, monitored and acted on remotely."

Mangold and his colleagues presented their findings Sept. 11 at VLCS '15, the ACM Workshop on Visible Light Communication Systems in Paris, France.

The VLC network the researchers used off-the-shelf commercial LED light bulbs that they then modified so that they could send and receive signals. These modifications included a System-on-a-Chip running the Linux operating system, a VLC controller module with the protocol software and an additional power supply for the added electronics.

The researchers created software that makes the signals transmitted through this hardware compatible with Internet protocols. They were thus able to create networks with a throughput of up to 1 kilobit per second. These VLC-enabled bulbs could be used to broadcast beacons making it possible to detect the location of objects, linked into a network to route signal traffic or could be used to communicate with objects.

"The ubiquitous presence of LED-based that can be enhanced with VLC functionality, and the availability of LED-equipped devices, unleashes a wide range of opportunities and applications," Mangold said.

Explore further: Team uses smart light, shadows to track human posture

More information: … n/Linux-Light-Bulbs/

Related Stories

Team uses smart light, shadows to track human posture

August 11, 2015

A Dartmouth College team has created the first light-sensing system that reconstructs human postures continuously and unobtrusively, furthering efforts to create smart spaces in which people control their environment with ...

Li-Fi: Edinburgh prof seeds LEDs for communication

October 6, 2012

(—"We believe wireless communications should be as reliable as lighting." That is a company motto of startup PureVLC (Visible Light Communication), which aims to connect the two—communications and light. They ...

Recommended for you

Technology near for real-time TV political fact checks

January 18, 2019

A Duke University team expects to have a product available for election year that will allow television networks to offer real-time fact checks onscreen when a politician makes a questionable claim during a speech or debate.

Privacy becomes a selling point at tech show

January 7, 2019

Apple is not among the exhibitors at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, but that didn't prevent the iPhone maker from sending a message to attendees on a large billboard.

China's Huawei unveils chip for global big data market

January 7, 2019

Huawei Technologies Ltd. showed off a new processor chip for data centers and cloud computing Monday, expanding into new and growing markets despite Western warnings the company might be a security risk.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 11, 2015
Light bulbs use quite a bit of current... I wonder how much RF interference these things will cause. Hopefully they aren't modulating with square pulses...
5 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2015
only 1 kilobit per second
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 11, 2015
I feel this is entirely academic and impractical. Already we have radio wave base systems like WIFI, Bluetooth, Zigbee, NFC, etc., which cover a great range of use cases. And as antenna and chip technologies are leaping forward, I see no need for the use of clunky domestic lighting to join the party.

Room lights can't be used in broad daylight, they can't be used in the dark without waking up the children and your neighbors, they use a lot of electricity, are hard to couple to where the data comes from and goes to, and finally, are ridiculously slow!!

1 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2015
Its just another one of those dumb things dreamed up by undergraduates

About as useful as the technology that lets you plug your phone into the side-walk so that passing pedestrians foot-falls will charge up the phone. Sure, it can be done - but wouldn't it be easier to just use a charger like everyone else?

Where I live Monday to Friday doesn't have a phone/internet connection at all so I use my android tablet as a wi-fi access point. Works well throughout the building - even during power outages!

Beats light bulbs as data carriers on every front.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2015
Do you still use light bulbs in America? How quaint!
5 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2015
IBM did this in the 1980s
4.3 / 5 (3) Sep 12, 2015
Already we have radio wave base systems like WIFI, Bluetooth, Zigbee, NFC, etc.,

The problem with those is the available radio spectrum, because they are not easily contained and constrained within individual buildings and rooms. Except for NFC which only reaches about a foot because it's magnetic fields instead of radio.

The case is for a technology that gives you a very tightly constrained, almost line-of-sight communications for sensors and datapoints around a house so you wouldn't need to wire all the devices and sensors like thermostats or motion alarms up with anything else than power.

If it was infrared-based, it would at least not disturb the users - but that technology is already decades old and you couldn't write papers about it because there's nothing new to tell.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 13, 2015
I think LI-FI has demonstrated better throughput already.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.