Li-Fi equipped AR glasses could help battleship technicians make fast repairs

April 20, 2023
PureLiFi hopes to take to the seas in new military contractor partnership.

Given the tighter security provided by Li-Fi compared to Wi-Fi, military outfits have been among the adopters of the slowly emerging technology. Now, Scottish vendor pureLiFi is bringing another dimension to the military angle: Li-Fi equipped virtual reality and augmented reality glasses.

The Edinburgh-based company is providing its Halo technology, which enables VR and AR glasses to communicate via Li-Fi, to Beloit, Wisc.–based maritime defense outfit Fairbanks Morse Defense.

It appears that Fairbanks hopes to use Halo to enhance its remote collaborative maintenance and training offerings, in which technicians wear AR glasses to help see the actions required for them to repair or build equipment while a specialist instructs the technician remotely.

Li-Fi, like Wi-Fi, is a wireless communication architecture. Unlike Wi-Fi, it does not use radio waves; rather, it uses modulated light waves, which are generated by LEDs, or, for faster performance, from laser chips.

Li-Fi signals are harder to intercept than Wi-Fi because Li-Fi requires direct line of sight between communication and transmission devices. Thus, military organizations such as the U.S. Army have tapped Li-Fi systems, including those from pureLiFi as well as from Signify.

In announcing the partnership with Fairbanks Morse, pureLiFi said that Li-Fi will “provide secure light-based wireless communications systems with a near-zero electromagnetic signature.”

PureLiFi is pairing with the Wisconsin company via Fairbanks Morse’s FM Defense Accelerator Program, launched last month to “support emerging maritime defense technology,” in Fairbanks’ words.

Li-Fi is a technology that has been in an “emerging” state for more than a decade, since pureLiFi launched as a commercial entity in 2012, pioneering the business. While Li-Fi has slowly picked up users, such as in military operations, some schools, and transportation environments, it has not yet found widespread adoption. Personal and portable device makers have not embedded communications technology the way they have with Wi-Fi. A standards clash is partly to blame.

Some vendors believe that the faster laser-based systems could help expand acceptance. After all of its LED-based efforts, pureLiFi is among those who see a laser Li-Fi future, and is building laser-based antennae to embed in phones. The £10 million it received from the Scottish government last year could speed laser development.

Roughly speaking, laser-based Li-Fi systems offer transmission speeds around 1 Gbps, about 6 to 7 times faster than LED Li-Fi. Laser Li-Fi speeds are on a trajectory to grow to 100 Gbps

While shifting toward lasers — or at least offering a mix of lasers and LEDs — Li-Fi vendors also sometimes forgo the illumination aspect of lighting while focusing on optical communications only.

As Li-Fi gains operating speed, it becomes faster than Wi-Fi, which could make some of its other selling points more compelling: Li-Fi can help alleviate crowded wireless internet spectrum and thus minimize clashing signals in public spaces. It can also minimize radio interference with equipment in hospitals and on factory floors.

PureLiFi said it has provided Fairbanks with a version of its Halo “to be compatible with FM on Board,” but did not identify whether the technology is laser- or LED-based. 

Fairbanks describes FM on Board as technology that “supports naval operations by enabling users across the oceans to learn and access live support through 3D simulation training that utilizes augmented reality and real-time data mapped from physical engines to digital twins.” It claims the hands-free technology reduces repair times and increases operational availability.

In addition to FM on Board, Fairbanks Morse offers a range of maritime defense products and services, including mechanical, electrical, and IT. It is owned by New York City–based private equity firm Arcline Investment Management.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.