Windows is fast becoming a portal to the future.
Scientists in Switzerland are already pioneering electricity-generating windows that could help power our homes and devices. But now researchers in Saudi Arabia have developed a technology that can beam a solar-powered wireless Internet signal through specialized glass.
“I hope so [in future] smart, modern office buildings with giant glass windows will work with the internet based on this technology,” Professor Osama Amin, the project’s lead researcher at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, told Euronews Next.
The team of scientists say that if they can achieve high data rates, they will be able to do “anything”.
Their window technology for transferring data over the Internet is still in its infancy, with broadband speeds around 15-16Kbps.
“The intention is to radically improve that number, but for now it can already be used for IoT applications because sensors need low data rates,” he said.
“We are moving towards the smart home. And any type of sensor should benefit from it”.
The sunlight has turned into binaries ones and zeros
So how does it work? Imagine glass windows as a modem, says Amin.
The Saudi innovation uses the polarization of sunlight to transfer data using smart glass elements known as dual cell liquid crystal shutters (DLS).
Electromagnetic polarization is one of the properties of electromagnetic waves, such as light.
Polarized sunglasses, for example, use electromagnetic polarization to filter light. They block reflected light and let only useful light through, reducing eye strain and glare to facilitate safe and comfortable viewing for the eyes.
“Light that arrives unpolarized has many directions, but polarization organizes the direction, allowing some light to pass and some light not,” explained Amin.
But how does this connect to the internet?
Polarization allows sunlight to be organized into “a sort of one-and-zero language, which is predetermined by the original data coming in through a LAN cable plugged into the edge of the smart glass,” he added.
“A LAN cable goes to the router, and then we can have this WiFi signal. In our system, the LAN cable will be connected to the edge of the glass, the glass will be a transmitter for the terrestrial cable, and instead of using electricity to propagate the signal, it will only use the sunlight”.
The variation of light, imperceptible to the human eye, communicates wireless Internet data to devices in the room.
“Basically, what we’ve done is a small device with multiple layers. And these layers can change the polarity of the light by shaping the transparency of the glass. And when you change the opacity really fast, there’s a data flow,” said Sahar Ammar, PhD. Student who participated in the research.
Are our devices ready to pick up the Internet from glass?
Typically, wireless communication technologies are based on radio frequency communication or optical communication that require energy-intensive active light sources, such as lasers and light emitting diodes (LEDs).
The Saudi system works like any visible light communication system (VLC), modulating the light from LEDs to carry information.
However, the team’s approach is innovative because it also modulates the intensity of natural sunlight, while also encoding the internet data within it through the opacity of the glass, which can then be detected and decoded by devices in the room.
Devices that could potentially benefit from solar-powered data transfer technology must be specially designed to detect polarized information.
However, smartphone camera developers are already working on making devices capable of decrypting data sent this way.
“Using sustainable sunlight for data transmission as a green option for wireless communications, that’s the goal,” he added.
The research was published in the IEEE Photonic journal in October.