SOF described their need for faster, lighter communication capabilities with low power draw. We envisioned a conceptual solution involving a known capability based on optical signaling (data transmission using light).
We shared a basic demo of the capability with SOF personnel. Then we asked them about their opinion. The feedback we got was a combination of excitement plus many ideas for use cases.
So our inspiration was really the SOF personnel themselves describing how and where the concept we introduced could be put into action.
What it does
Optical communication is the ability to transmit information using oscillating (pulsing) light. You may be familiar with it as "fiber optics" but in reality the fiber is optional! Light can transmit >1Gbit of data through the air in a well engineered system.
What LightStream will do is implement this framework to work with existing equipment like head gear and scopes so personnel will be able to leverage their existing equipment as communication systems! In addition, LightStream envisions novel architecture for effective local and long range transmission of data.
How we built it
Optical communication systems can be fashioned entirely using commodity off the shelf and affordable components you can buy at any electronics store. So we did just that! We demonstrated the ability to transmit music across the room. We transmitted music using a simple LED light, causing it oscillate at 20kHz and this light source was able to be read by a simple solar cell up to 30m away outside in direct sunlight! The receiving solar cell pushed to a circuit that translated the analog signal into sound.
Challenges we ran into
We were ambitious! We wanted to program the ability to transmit digital data in addition to analog. We were not able to complete the required coding in time to demonstrate this capability. However, we now have the code libraries and a SW framework for continuing to develop this process.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We are proud of the team we formed. 7 awesome people came together from 3 different organizations (UCSD, MIT, industry) drawn together by our curiosity, shared vision, and complementary skills. We worked so well together, attacking different parts of the process and also helping the others working on other parts. We all learned and and we all contributed.
What we learned
Little steps can go a long way! We were able to inspire SOF personnel with a simple demo of a long established capability. This underscored how much opportunity there is to help and we are excited to learn that we ourselves may have the ability to really impact the capabilities and competitiveness of our US Armed Forces. That's so cool!
What's next for LightStream
Let's get to work. We will develop our short term achievable goals, a project plan, and we will get to work on making it happen most likely from the UCSD campus.