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Perspective Internet of Things

Optical WLAN for Connected Cars

Jun 4, 2018

Data transmission by light via polymer fibres and optical wireless LAN offers the automotive industry new opportunities.
IoT in Retail
If you are travelling in an autonomous car, you will have plenty of time to use media. While the driver is engrossed in a book, his front-seat passenger may be reading the news on her tablet. However, the reading light doesn’t come from a lamp and the wireless LAN doesn’t come from a hotspot. The car’s roof liner provides both – the light and the connectivity – via polymer optical fibers, POF for short.

POF as an alternative to glass fiber

Like glass fibre, polymer fibre consists of a transparent core through which the data runs – except that it is made of plastic and not glass. Plastic sheathing provides protection and shielding. These so-called plastic optical fibres have many positive properties. POF cables are very thin, for example, with a diameter of about two millimetres, yet robust and significantly more flexible than glass fibre. They can be flexibly installed in the interior of a car. They also withstand the heat and vibration of an engine compartment
in order to connect the local vehicle technology.
More users, more data, less energy?
The precious frequency range available for conventional wireless transmission may no longer be sufficient in the future

Other uses for polymer optical fibre

  • As an addition to or replacement for WLAN in a home network
  • As side-radiating fibres to illuminate Plexiglas displays or signage
  • As a transmission line for so-called solar collectors (sollectors) to direct sunlight into rooms
  • As a transmission line for light in general to separate the light source from the illuminated location
  • As a sensor fibre for simple strain, pressure or brightness measurement
  • As a rotary transmitter for transmitting optical signals from a stationary to rotary axis such as for motors or in robotics
In addition, POF cables do not conduct electricity, generate radiation, or be influenced by electromagnetic fields: characteristics that make it easy to lay them in cable ducts along with 230-volt cables.. Installation and connection are easy. Expensive special tools like those required to splice glass fibre are not needed. Polymer fibres, however, have a higher attenuation than glass fibres, which has a negative influence on data throughput over longer distances. Nevertheless, high transmission rates can be achieved over short distances such as wiring in vehicles. Research scientists at Nuremberg University of Technology’s POF Application Centre have already achieved data rates of several megabits per second.
Questions to Prof. Christian-Alexander Bunge (Part 1)
Why did you decide to do research on polymer fibres of all things?

Data and light for the vehicle interior

Polymer fibres have been in use in the automotive sector since the 1990s. The MOST (Media Oriented Systems Transport) bus, for example, is a serial field bus system with POF cables that automobile manufacturers all over the world use to transmit audio, video, voice and data signals in cars. Impervious to electromagnetic interference, POF cables are predestined for use in electric cars and their battery systems. Polymer fibres can also be used to make luminous textiles or - if the fibres are prepared locally - to make structures and contours of any kind luminous. So why not combine the two?
Intensive research on polymer fibres is under way at the University of Telecommunications in Leipzig (HfTL). The POF textiles developed at the HfTL Institute of Communications Technology, for example, can be stretched across the roof liner of a car. With these flexible fibres the researchers then illuminate not only the entire interior of the vehicle but also specific points, such as reading lights. This special material even provides Internet access. The light can be modulated in a way so that it converts the roof liner into an optical wireless LAN hotspot. In-car mobile devices can then go online via the roof liner.
Questions to Prof. Christian-Alexander Bunge (Part 2)
Why not simply provide in-car Internet access via a WLAN hotspot?

Optical WLAN from the lamp

The Leipzig researchers’ optical solution transmits light and data together – both wired and wireless. Optical data transmission solutions of this kind are also a speciality of the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI). Visible Light Communication (VLC) via the lighting in rooms is appropriate, inter alia, where conventional wireless communication could interfere with sensitive systems, such as in hospitals or  air planes.

Other uses for optical WLAN

  • In hospitals, data connections via the operating theatre light in the can be used to transmit X-ray images to the operating theatre or to control an operating theatre robot
  • On board of a plane the light of the ceiling lamp can be used to provide all passengers with Internet access or stream films on their tablets
  • At trade fairs the stand lighting can relay the exhibitor’s information to the mobile devices of stand visitors
  • Optical WLAN is an alternative wherever multiple light sources are available such as in open-plan offices, classrooms and conference rooms
For optical WLAN special lamps are connected to the Internet via landlines or power lines, providing a data connection via their LED lamps with an electrical component switching the diode quickly on and off. Where the human eye no longer notices any flickering, the photodiode in the laptop or smartphone reads information from the modulated light signal. The result is a so-called Light Fidelity network, or Li-Fi for short.
Optical WLAN could also be used in a connected car example. Much as in buildings, the infrastructure is already in place. It is the street lamps. Upgraded to incorporated data-transmitting LEDs, they could serve as hotspots for passing vehicles. The only precondition is that there must be a line of sight between the two.