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LiFi could change downloads

Researchers from Northumbria University, Newcastle and UCL are developing a new type of organic LED (light-emitting diode) which will communicate with smart device to download and upload large amounts of data.

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Known as ‘LiFi’ the new technology uses visible light communication to transmit information – with lights such as those found in the ceiling of buildings turning on and off at a very high speed, not visible to the human eye, to communicate with LEDs in phone or tablet screens.

LiFi based links are much faster than WiFi, which uses radio frequency waves, meaning that a film which may take an hour to download using WiFi could take just seconds using LiFi, with live streaming also much easier and reliable.

The research being carried out by Northumbria and UCL focuses on the creation of a new low-cost, plastic all-organic LED which will be used to develop the world’s first complete visible light communications system.

Project lead Zabih Ghassemlooy is Professor of Optical Communications at Northumbria University and also heads up Northumbria’s renowned Optical Communications Research Group.

He said: “In the future almost all the lights we use in our homes and offices will be LED – they are cheaper, greener and more efficient, using up to 10 times less energy than traditional incandescent or fluorescent lights.

“Given the increasing amount of data we are all using, it therefore makes perfect sense to develop this LiFi technology so we can use our existing lighting infrastructure to provide fast internet in the future.

“The new LEDs being developed at UCL during this project not only provide light but will have additional functionality to allow them to communicate with other electronic devices, not only delivering data but receiving it back as well.”

As well as the increased speed, LiFi could deliver additional benefits over WiFi, including not exposing users to radio frequency radiation and being safe to use in areas such as hospitals, where WiFi cannot be used due to the electromagnetic interference it causes.

With its ability to allow electronic devices to communicate with each other, LiFi could also successfully be used within homes and work places, as well as for car-to-car communications; underwater communications systems between various manned and unmanned platforms; for communication between handheld devices and as an enabler for local positioning systems.

It is envisioned that smartphones will play a major role in the delivery of LiFi networks, with the technology expected to be in everyday use in the next five to 10 years.

Dr Paul Haigh, a former Northumbria University PhD student, now a Senior Research Associate at UCL, working there with Professor Izzat Darwazeh, is also involved in the project. He said: “The LEDs we are developing are plastic, flexible devices which are cheap to make and which are already appearing in high-end mobile phones, tablets and televisions.

“We are incorporating these into a thin film, just 500 nanometers (0.0005 millimetres) thick that could be used as a smart phone or tablet screen, allowing it to act as a LiFi transmitter.

“In addition, as well as looking at how we transmit information from a light in the ceiling to an electronic device, we are the first researches to also consider how we can transfer information the other way too, allowing devices to essentially talk to each other.”

The three-year project has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will run until September next year.

The research is being led by Izzat Darwazeh, Professor of Communications Engineering at UCL; and Zabih Ghassemlooy, Professor of Optical Communications at Northumbria University. The research team also includes Professor Franco Cacialli, who leads the UCL group within the London Centre of Nanotechnology responsible for developing the novel organic devices for the project. Professor Ioannis Papakonstantinou, Dr Paul Haigh and Dr Alessandro Minotto of University College London, and Dr Hoa Le Minh and Dr Andrew Burton of Northumbria University are also involved in the research.

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AppDate: Shedding light in our times of darkness

SEAN BACHER’S app roundup highlights two load-shedding apps, along with South AfriCAM, NBA 2K Mobile, Virgin Mobile’s Spot 3.0 and SwiftKey.

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Load Shedding Notifier

With all the uncertainty about when South Africans will next be plunged into darkness by Eskom, the Load Shedding Notifier tries its best to keep up with Eskom’s schedule. The app is very simple to use. Download it, type an area in and click the save button. The app automatically tells you what load shedding stage Eskom is on, the times you can expect to start lighting candles and for how long to burn them.

Multiple areas can be added and one can switch between the different stages to see how each one will affect a certain area.

A grid status is also displayed, showing how strained the country’s electrical network is.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

EskomSePush Load Shedding App

EskomSePush does much the same as the Load Shedding Notifier, but allows multiple cities to be tracked. However, they may just want to rethink the name of the app if they want wider respectability.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

South AfriCAM

South AfriCAM enables users to add branded stickers and frames from popular lifestyle magazine titles to their posts, including Huisgenoot, YOU, Drum, Move!, TRUE LOVE, Women’s Health and Men’s Health. 

In the process, they can earn JETPoints for their social influence: through the app’s built-in JET8 social currency, users are rewarded for their engagement. For every in-app like, comment, and share, users earn JETPoints, which can be used to redeem products online or over the counter across more than 2 500 retail stores in South Africa. Users are additionally awarded JETPoints for cross-posting onto external social media networks.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

Click here to read about console quality graphics on a mobile phone, Virgin Money payments made easier, and an app that redesigns the keyboard.

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Drones to drive
Western Cape agritech

Aerobotics is set to change how farmers treat their crops by using drones and machine learning, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Western Cape is poised to be a hotbed of innovation in the agritech sector, with drone piloting set to playing a major role in in the tech start-up scene.

This is the view of Tim Willis, chief operating officer of pioneering drone company Aerobotics, a Cape Town drone company recognised as a world leader in agritech.

“Drone piloting is a key skill that feeds into the value chain of the budding 4th Industrial Revolution,” said Willis. “Cape Town and the Western Cape is uniquely positioned to be the melting pot for innovation in the agritech sector, as a leading agricultural exporter and a hub for creative tech start-ups.”

He was speaking at AeroCon, a drone expo organised by Aerobotics and held in Johannesburg this week aimed at providing opportunities for drone pilots to apply their skills in South Africa, and to show how drones are being used to collect data on crops. 

The event was supported by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), Wesgro, PROMMAC, MicaSense, and Rectron, among other

“We’re starting to sign up farmers across the country,” said Willis. “It’s exciting because farmers are starting to use drone technology on their farms. When a farmer wants a drone flown, they want it flown [now] so it’s important for us to capture that data as quickly as possible to show that drones are fast and effective.”

According to aerobotics, drone technology can help farmers reduce pesticide use on their crops by up to 30%. The result is environmentally friendly farming, reducing stressed crops and a healthier harvest. 

“We use aerial imagery from drones to recreate a 3D model of every single tree on a farmer’s orchard,” said Willis. “We’ve done this for millions of trees and it starts to give the farmers metrics of what they’re doing. We provide them with the health of the trees, the height, the volume, the canopy area, which enable the farms to make decisions on what to do next.”

Click here to read more about AeroCon and what it offers to those wanting to get into the drone industry.

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