iDrive® is Driving the VLC Revolution!

IST's iDrive® R&D team have developed a visible light communication (VLC) technology platform to facilitate the mass adoption of Li-Fi, which will be available to all developers and end-users.

Li-Fi or Visible Light Communication (VLC) is an enabling technology providing a means of transmitting information using LED light fixtures by modulating their light at a frequency too high to be perceptible to the human eye.

The advent of Li-Fi and VLC is hugely exciting because of the high data transfer rates that can be achieved and the fact that LED lighting is a huge growth market.

Rack-mounted VLC-enabled LED DriverAlthough VLC solutions have recently been trialled by a couple of the world’s largest lighting companies, the systems are based around proprietary technologies, which are closed to a wide community of developers and end-users and are prohibitively expensive, thus reducing their attractiveness and scalability.

The iDrive® team set about to resolve the issues holding back Li-Fi from being totally ubiquitous by taking a three stage approach:

1. Help create an open standard control protocol that can be used by the industry to send information within a VLC/Li-Fi system.

2. Build a low-cost VLC/Li-Fi enabled LED driver platform to ease deployment and reduce R&D expenditure for companies wishing to deploy Li-Fi solutions.

3. Create an innovative licensing support programme to take advantage of IST’s granted worldwide patents.

The first objective was to create an open, world-wide standard control protocol that could be universally adopted, so partnering with Wayne Howell, Art-Net inventor and Artistic Licence CEO, was an obvious choice. Art-Net is one of the most ubiquitous Ethernet-based lighting control protocols adopted today, which enables transmission of DMX512 data in an open manner.

The teams at Artistic Licence and iDrive® have worked together to devise a standard method of controlling Li-Fi via Art-Net and DMX512 (the newer sACN standard is also supported). Within the Art-Net specification, there is now a packet identified as ArtVLC, which can be used for both Art-Net and DMX512.

Secondly, the iDrive® team needed to finalise the design of its new LED output driver stage to allow integration of Li-Fi and ensure compatibility with the new ArtVLC standard. The iDrive® team have, with the help of a UK Government Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) research programme, developed a low-cost Li-Fi output stage with a team from the University of Wolverhampton, which extends the hybrid driver technology developed and patented by IST back in 2010.

The latest iteration of the hybrid output stage offers a breakthrough in price and performance, with features such as:

• Increased reliability of LED drivers by employing long-life, high temperature ceramic capacitors instead of the degradation issues commonly associated with the use of the electrolytic capacitors found in most LED drivers.

• Meets all healthy lighting requirements through the patented adoption of high frequency anti-flicker technology, even when lights are dimmed to levels of 1%.

• Removal of digital “flicker” during dimming at low levels, which is caused by poor dimming resolution of incumbent LED driver output stages.

• Includes advanced algorithms to allow LED driver dimming to mimic traditional light sources, such as halogen and incandescents, to improve ambient lighting.

• Overcomes intellectual property issues with traditional pulsed dimming modulation.

• The ability to choose the most appropriate dimming modulation scheme for the application.

• Over 98% output driver stage efficiency to increase lifetime and reduce the size of high power driver topologies.

• Enables a variety of cost effective Li-Fi solutions for smart data with parameters defined by the ArtVLC standard.

• Removes the chance of LED fixture damage when hot-plugged.

• Super smooth time-independent dimming (from seconds to days) with software selectable forward currents of 1600mA down to 20uA (or a seep dimming ratio of over 81920:1).

At lower Li-Fi speeds (defined as being between 1kHz to 50kHz), Li-Fi has the huge advantage of being compatible with existing technology infrastructure. For example, the LED display lighting in a museum could transmit text information or video URLs about the exhibits to visitors’ smart devices. Customers in a large retail store could opt to share their phones' GPS location with VLC-enabled lighting to better navigate the aisles or find special offers. All of these applications can be enabled with very little cost and simple development of apps that use sensing technology within mobile phones or tablets, thus opening up the technology to new markets.

The new Hybrid Li-Fi enabled LED driver output stages are due to be introduced to the entire iDrive® product range from autumn 2016.

Finally, the iDrive® team have created a flexible approach to licensing the new output stage technology, with cost competitive frameworks to encourage all companies that don’t have the same R&D expertise to accelerate their Li-Fi application offerings to market.

Commenting on IST’s latest development, Dr Archenhold explained: “We have worked on many iDrive® technologies over the last 17 years and the technology platform we are announcing today is a culmination of all these research efforts. The latest hybrid LED technology was designed to disrupt the LED driver market and address all end-user concerns, from lifetime to dimming capabilities, and obviously create a driver that is fit for the Internet of Things (IoT)".

"Through support from the UK Government and the University of Wolverhampton Engineering department, the latest iteration of IST's hybrid driver stages represents a paradigm shift for the industry by creating the world’s first software-defined LED driver stage, configurable in real-time to allow different LED dimming and Li-Fi modulation schemes. Li-Fi is a huge opportunity in smart lighting but we wanted to make sure Li-Fi wasn’t restricted to just large businesses, but available to anyone that has a great idea for a Li-Fi service”.

Nina Archenhold stated “The technical team have spent several years developing a cost effective Li-Fi solution which is to be launched at “The Next Step” lighting show in Japan in March 2016, with our Japanese partners providing a demonstration of the unique driver solutions. I firmly believe this platform will become one of the most popular platforms to deploy Li-Fi solutions due to it meeting all the commercial, technical and user requirements and we are very excited about the future!”.

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