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Visible light communication could simplify car electronics

Engineers at Warwick University are researching how to replace the complex wiring inside cars with devices that communicate via light signals.

A team led by Prof Roger Green is planning to demonstrate how visible light communication (VLC), which is already used as an alternative to wireless internet transmissions, could simplify and lighten the electronic systems in cars.

The researchers want to focus on how to transmit the beams of light around corners, how the materials inside the car affect the signals as they are transmitted and how to adjust those signals accordingly.

‘There is a lot of weight and a lot of work required to transfer signals around a vehicle,’ Green told The Engineer. ‘But there are also lots of spaces that light signals could be sent through: air-conditioning ducts, hollow doors and engine compartments that could be illuminated.’

VLC is a method of encoding data with light from an LED that switches on and off faster than can be seen with the human eye. It works in a similar way to optical fibres but transmits the signals through the air to a sensor.

The technology can be used to turn LED room lighting into wireless internet routers and is being explored as a way of allowing cars to communicate with each other via their headlights.

But Green argues that it also has advantages for sending information between the many computerised systems inside modern vehicles, partly because in an enclosed space the signals do not have to compete with natural light.

The advantage over traditional radio frequency wireless communication is that the light signals are not affected by electrical interference created within the vehicle and are not subject to telecommunication regulation.

This means multiple light frequencies, including infrared, could be used to transmit high volumes of information. The challenge will be developing ways to secure the beams as they travel around inside vehicle.

‘We need to think about what happens to the light when it reaches a corner and how much it is reflected, what colours of light we need to use depending on the coating inside the pipe,’ said Green.

The team plans to begin demonstrating the control of different vehicle components such as brake servos using VLC and is looking to work with industrial partners on the concept.

Readers' comments (6)

  • While this sounds nice in principal there are more issues in automotive design than just EMC.

    From the sound of the concept, this is not fibre optics, all the mechanical parts used for communication would need to be specially designed to support the communication.

    This would add more dictation to the design of cars beyond the safety regulation.

    I personally believe this will create more problems than it solves.

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  • Does anyone else see problems with, say, car accidents damaging the light path? I mean, seriously, it isn't like every single car is treated like it is made out of gold.

    This technology would be much more useful for airplanes, where weight and fuel economy are much more important, and you don't expect them to EVER run into anything.

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  • When spider webs, leaves, dust, and/or grime accumulate in the ducts, does the car cease to function or behave erratically?

    What labor costs are imposed on consumers when these optical pathways have to be periodically cleaned (and complex assemblies taken apart to access them) in order to ensure operation?

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  • I have tried this on a central heating system to communicate room temperature information to an advanced controller, not satisfied with trv's, the controller then operates a motorised valve to control the water flow at the room heater (radiator) inlet. It then occurred that the communication system could be used for intercom and the controller might control more than just the central heating. With the additives that are be used in wet heating systems light transmission may be unreliable, ultrasonic transmission proved effective but having to connect electrical wiring, rather than the preferred optical link originally envisaged, to an implant in the domestic wet heating system would have proven too unpopular.

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  • This does seem to be very impractical and very poorly thought out.

    Ir would never work in the real world at all.

    I wonder if it wasn't some inexperienced project student's idea?

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  • Glad to hear your comments, folks ! Optical wireless is a new technology (sort of) and really does work. There are many teams around the world making it happen, including mine. We cannot all be wrong ! It's currently used to control your TV and multimedia remotely .... you've used it. Aircraft and weight conscious applications are where it really comes into its own, and where security is needed (compared to radio).

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