Harald Haas

Imagine using your car headlights to transmit data ... or surfing the web safely on a plane, tethered only by a line of sight. Harald Haas is working on it. A professor of engineering at Edinburgh University, Haas has long been studying ways to communicate electronic data signals, designing modulation techniques that pack more data onto existing networks. But his latest work leaps beyond wires and radio waves to transmit data via an LED bulb that glows and darkens faster than the human eye can see.

The system, which he's calling D-Light, uses a mathematical trick called OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), which allows it to vary the intensity of the LED's output at a very fast rate, invisible to the human eye (for the eye, the bulb would simply be on and providing light). The signal can be picked up by simple receivers. As of now, Haas is reporting data rates of up to 10 MBit/s per second (faster than a typical broadband connection), and 100 MBit/s by the end of this year and possibly up to 1 GB in the future.