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Pioneering ‘LiFi’ professor selected as finalist for European Inventor Award 2023

Row of traditional filament lightbulbs with one energy-saving lightbulb hanging lower.

A University of Strathclyde professor who has pioneered and coined LiFi wireless technology – which uses light instead of radio waves to transmit information – has been selected as a finalist for European Inventor Award 2023.

The technology created by Professor Harald Haas, Director of the LiFi Research and Development Centre, and his team provides users with wireless connections that are over 100 times faster than Wi-Fi.

He and his team are finalists in the Research category of the European Inventor Award, organised by the European Patent Office, to be held in Valencia, Spain on 4 July.

Faster rate

LiFi, or Light Fidelity, makes a light bulb emit subtle pulses of light, undetectable to the human eye, within which data can travel to receivers integrated in fixed and mobile devices.

Professor Harald Haas

Receivers collect the information and interpret the transmitted data in a way that is conceptually similar to decoding Morse code but at a much faster rate – billions of times a second.

The fixed and mobile devices use the same principle, but with infrared light, to send data to the light bulb, thereby achieving a full bidirectional data link.

With LiFi, transmission speeds can exceed 100 Gbps, making it 100 times faster than high-speed Wi-Fi and 5G connections today. Professor Haas and his team have demonstrated 100 Gbps from a light bulb in what could be considered a first 6G trial. The technology also allows multiple simultaneous links to various users and is orchestrated by a single light bulb.

With the growth in smartphone and AR/VR headset adoption and global mobile traffic, LiFi offers an alternative transmission technology by sending data on light waves; this optical spectrum resource is about 3,000 times larger than radio frequency resources.

It also provides greater data security because the signal does not pass through walls, which means that the internet signal is being kept inside the room where the light is being emitted. Professor Haas’s technology is already being used in areas where radio frequency is undesirable, including hospitals and schools.

LiFi applied in point-to-point outdoor links is cheaper than fibre-optic cables and can be incorporated into existing infrastructure, like streetlamps. Also, the simultaneous use of solar panels as LiFi data detectors and energy harvesting devices provides significant opportunities to reduce the energy consumption of mobile infrastructure.

Spectrum innovation

Professor Haas and his colleagues have also shown how various types of solar cells, including organic ones, can be used for high-speed optical wireless data receivers for more energy-efficient buildings.

He believes LiFi could also become a crucial component in equipping many autonomous systems, both on the ground and in the air. According to the inventor, the next generation network, 6G, would require significant spectrum innovation, in which LiFi could play a key role.

Professor Haas – who was amongst the most highly-cited researchers in the world last year, according to analytics firm Clarivate – said: “It is a huge honour to have been nominated for this award. There is a huge ocean in front of us that we want to leverage for mobile communications. We only need to step out of the crowded pool.

In my heart, I'm an engineer. I really want to do science for the benefit of humanity. I want to develop things that improve the quality of our lives.

Professor Haas is named as inventor on a number of European patents and in 2012, he co-founded an academic spinoff called pureLiFi, to commercialise LiFi devices, and remains its Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and member of the Board of Directors.

Professor Haas first demonstrated the feasibility of his invention to the wider public when he delivered a TED Talk on how LiFi could reach speeds comparable to high-speed broadband by streaming a YouTube video in high definition through the light waves emitted by a tabletop lamp. He explains that this talk was the first turning point for him and he went on to found pureLiFi, “because of the potential I saw and the overwhelming response we received.”

The European Inventor Award is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the EPO in 2006, the award honours individuals and teams, who have come up with solutions to some of the biggest challenges of our time.

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