By Lewin, S.
Drive on a city’s streets at night and you’re guided by artificial lights: glowing traffic signals beckoning you forward, the headlights of a car trailing you, a sign warning of work ahead. Artificial lights may soon guide your car, too: In the quest for cars that understand the world around them and respond intelligently, a growing number of research engineers are exploring systems that encode signals in LED light. “We envision car lights transmitting messages that your eyes can’t see,” says Richard Roberts, a research scientist at Intel. “They’re blinking out messages to be used by other automobiles for safety reasons: positioning, collision avoidance, cooperative driving-maybe even someday for autonomous driving.” Roberts has been a part of this work since Intel started looking into visible light communication (VLC) in 2008, and he’s seen it go from the “next Wi-Fi” to a research topic on hold-at least at Intel. While companies have tried using visible light to send extra information from a sign when scanned, as with a QR code, to pinpoint locations within a store, and even as a high-bandwidth Wi-Fi substitute-called Li-Fi-it just hasn’t caught on in the mainstream.