March 2010

New Energy-Saving Invention Uses Light to Connect With Internet
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In the near future, hooking up to the Internet may be as simple as turning on the lights.

A new wireless data communication system, invented and patented by a D.C.-based company and licensed to Minnesota's LVX System, uses visible light instead of radio waves to transmit digital information, a development that could revolutionize online communications.

"We're talking faster speeds and more secure connections, all with reduced energy consumption," said LVX Lab Chief Executive Officer Mike Muggli.

Muggli was at the IBEW International Office in Washington, D.C. late last year to show off the company's new invention.

Before a gathered audience of IBEW representatives and staff, Muggli pointed to a small box with a glowing green light. It sat next to a computer, which was broadcasting the latest updates from CNN. Besides an electrical cord, it had no wires.

The reddish glow of an energy-efficient LED bulb illuminated the work station. Thanks to a special computer chip developed by LVX System, the bulbs were also transmitting the data signals that kept the computer online.

The system is not only faster than regular broadband, LED lights cut down on energy usage by more than 30 percent. And even when the lights are off, the bulbs still emit signals to keep the computer connected to the network.

Light-based wireless is not only faster, it is also more secure. "Unlike radio waves, a light-based connection can't go through walls or floors, making it impossible for strangers to piggyback on your connection," Muggli said.

Muggli said he was particularly eager to share the new invention with the IBEW, which he hopes can provide the manpower to make sure it ends up installed in every office building, government center and school in the near future—a project that could potentially create tens of thousands of jobs.

"This is a big project and we need the training and skills the IBEW can provide to make it happen," Muggli said. "We're talking about millions of buildings across the United States which could potentially be wired for this system."

The new technology is the brainchild of St. Cloud, Minn., native and LVX System founder and chairman, John Pederson.

Pederson, a veteran inventor who developed the power-saving flashing LED lights used by many police and emergency vehicles, first publicly tested out his new light-based wireless system at the local high school and police station in January 2009, grabbing the attention of Minnesota Local 292 Business Agent Dennis Kalthoff, who works out of the local's St. Cloud office.

"It seemed so incredible at first, I didn't know what to make of it," Kalthoff said. He got in contact with Pederson and Muggli, with whom he attended high school.

"I quickly grasped how important this was going to be," Kalthoff said. "And they wanted to work with us, because they knew we had skilled electricians and training facilities, and that we would be ready to move on this right away."

The technology also opens up new opportunities for wireless use outside the office. LED streetlights could easily be outfitted with the system, making the downtown of any major city a giant Internet café.

Car headlights could also be fitted with wireless chips, which would feed commuters important traffic and safety information—even letting drivers know when they are getting too close to a passing vehicle.

Kalthoff and Tom Leonard from Le Suer Local 343 talked up the invention with local contractors and friendly political leaders and recently set up a display at Local 292's training center.

Local 343, which holds the contract to maintain the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, will be setting up a system prototype at the clinic and other local institutions sometime this year.

Muggli says he is looking to partner with business and governmental officials in the coming year to promote the system, hoping to see it become an integral part of any green building retrofit.

And members of the IBEW—both in construction and manufacturing—are ready to provide the labor to make it happen. "Light-based wireless has the capacity to help provide tens of thousands of new jobs in both construction and electrical manufacturing," said IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill. "And the IBEW will help make sure it's done right the first time."

This prototype shows how a light-based wireless Internet system works.