2012-09-11

Co.Exist

Future Lightweight Cars Will Have Beams Of Light Under The Hood

Here’s a clever way to increase vehicle efficiency: replace wires under your car’s hood with beams of light that don’t weigh a thing.

One way to decrease the world’s oil consumption is to push everyone towards electric vehicles. But EVs won’t take over any time soon, as much as we’d like them to. In the meantime, increasing vehicle efficiency is the best bet for lowering gasoline consumption. Using more advanced, lightweight materials in vehicle design (like carbon fiber composites) is one method; another is rejiggering what’s under the hood.

Researchers from the University of Warwick think that auto manufacturers can eventually do away with most of the wires under your vehicle’s hood, replacing them with beams of light that communicate with each other. The research into optical wireless, a technique that allows data signals to travel through light, has a number of potential vehicle applications: creating efficient communication between the engine management system, temperature sensors, brakes and vehicle speed control; beaming videos and music to in-car entertainment systems via overhead lights; even providing a simple LED light source.

Optical wireless doesn’t just reduce a vehicle’s weight; it also minimizes manufacturing costs since LEDs and infrared lighting is cheaper than traditional wiring. And by minimizing the mess of wires under a vehicle’s hood, car-owners can cut down on trips to the local mechanic.

Another bonus: the radio spectrum, often used today for in-car communication, is hampered by overcrowding. Not so with optical wireless, which doesn’t have any of radio’s bandwidth limitations, technical or otherwise.

"Optical wireless is relatively unknown at the moment. 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," explained Professor Roger Green, one of the researchers behind the optical wireless study, in a statement.

Your next vehicle probably won’t be equipped with optical wireless technology, however. The researchers’ study is intended to be the first of many exploring the future of optical wireless intra-vehicle communications—in other words, a lot more research needs to be done before the technology lands in vehicles.

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