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Another Bright Idea

Fluorescent lights may soon be used to transmit analog and digital data to special handheld devices or PCs using technology just developed by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The technology encodes data within the light emitted by conventional-looking fluorescent light fixtures and transmits it to special optical transceivers. Initially, the technology is earmarked for use in public places where there's a need to transmit simple directions and other information to individuals, especially those with handicaps.

Steven Leeb, an associate professor at MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, developed the technology, which is based on modifications to a fluorescent light fixture's magnetic ballast.

All fluorescent lights have magnetic ballasts that create the miniscule electrical pulses necessary for a fluorescent light bulb to illuminate. Unlike conventional fluorescent fixtures, which pulse at regular intervals, lights using Leeb's technology pulse at variable intervals that contain encoded text, graphics, or audio. The pulses are picked up by battery-powered optical receivers small enough to be portable and capable of outputting the transmitted data

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