For lighter cars, turn wires into light beams

WARWICK (UK) — One way to make cars of the future lighter and more fuel efficient could be to replace the jumble of wires under the hood with beams of light.

University of Warwick scientists are investigating optical wireless—where data signals travel through light—and its use in cars. Their work was featured at the recent International Conference on Transparent Optical Networks.

Optical wireless can use just a basic LED source to send data. In situations where it’s best for the beam to be invisible, infrared light can be used instead.

While optical wireless has been explored for use in aviation for some time, engineers at Warwick are exploring its use in private vehicles.

Inside a car, the technology can be used to communicate between parts inside the engine compartment, such as between temperature sensors and the engine management system, or between the brakes and the vehicle speed control systems.

It can be installed into the overhead lights above the passenger seats to send multimedia content for in-car entertainment

The major advantage of optical wireless is the reduction in wiring weight, which translates into significant fuel savings over the lifetime of a vehicle. But it also reduces manufacturing costs.

“Optical wireless is relatively unknown at the moment,” says Professor Roger Green. “But it’s not hard to imagine a day when passengers can watch TV streamed through a beam coming from their overhead light, or when parts of the engine can ‘talk’ to each other without wires.

“We believe that this technology is poised to come into its own—not least because of the potential fuel savings to be gained from taking weight out of a car.

“Removing that weight could translate into lower fuel costs over the life of a vehicle.

“It is also cheap to install as it can use a simple LED light source which are being mass produced at the moment.

“And it has other benefits such as its lack of electromagnetic interference and the fact that, unlike the overcrowded radio spectrum which we use for much of our data communications, optical wireless is unlimited by the technical and regulatory bandwidth limitations which exist for radio signals.”

Source: University of Warwick

chat2 Comments


  1. jeh

    I first saw a demo of a system like this (line of sight optical) in an IBM lab in the mid 1960s! You can buy systems like that now for use in communications.
    Light is already used in cars in millions of cars in MOST and FLEXRAY systems which control car operating, safety and communications/entertainment systems. We’ve seen it used in engine management systems in race cars and proposed for ignition systems. But line of sight optical has the same problem it has in longer outdoor links – signals being obscured by dirt or moisture (fog and clouds.)
    Have the people proposing this ever looked under the hood of a car?

  2. kimbee

    No, no, they’ve probably never looked under the bonnet. I mean why would you bother? It’s not like it would be important in a study on them. In fact, I bet they’ve never even seen a car. I hear they still use the un-horseless carriage in Warwick.

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