Fluorescent LANs Light the Way

Fluorescent LANs Light the Way


Data hidden in the flicker of fluorescent bulbs may help the disabled lead independent lives.

The flicker of fluorescent lights, long a symbol of institutional drear, may give new freedom to the handicapped, thanks to a high-tech startup that sees the bulbs as the perfect transmitters.

Talking Lights, a Cambridge-based MIT spinoff, is developing a local area network that uses fluctuations in fluorescent lights to transmit data. Inventor, company founder and MIT professor Steven Leeb predicts the technology will be a boon for the disabled.

For example, he says, airport lights could direct a blind person carrying a special receiver—worn as a badge or held like a PDA—to the correct gate. Auditorium lights could broadcast enhanced audio to the hearing disabled, or transcriptions to the deaf. And research published this month suggests that the technology could greatly improve the rehabilitation of persons with traumatic brain injury.