Can LEDs speed the future of self-driving cars?

August 22, 2014 // By Paul Buckley
Intel research scientist Richard Roberts has revealed that he is working on a set of IEEE specs that could guide future development of visible light communication (VLC) in cars.

VLC may make it possible to use visible light emitted by LEDs in car headlights to create a low-cost automobile mesh network.

Intel has been working on VLC since 2008 and Roberts is looking to develop the technology as a car-to-car communication platform.

The system proposed by Roberts and his colleagues aims to use pulse modulation of the visible light to relay information from one car to another. The LED data traffic would be imperceptible to the human eye, but could message other cars about traffic conditions along the road, positioning, possible collisions, and could form part of an autonomous driving system.

The data rate for transmitting the data from one car to another is low enough that a regular camera could be used to receive it, and LEDs already used in cars today can relay the data.  

VLC could be a cheaper option for vehicle to vehicle communication compared with implementing radar or lasers in every new car. Although radar and laser technologies would be more effective at making cars aware of their surroundings they are a costly alternative in a cost-conscious marketplace.  At least 10% of cars on the road would need to be  equipped with radar/laser systems to make a basic mesh network a viable solution.

VLC relies on line-of-sight which is a drawback compared with radar or wireless networking because adverse weather and ambient lighting conditions could interfere with LED pulse data and might make VLC unworkable as an autonomous driving technology solution.  However, VLC could provide additional protection for self-driving cars of the future and may help speed the development process.