In Focus: Infrared Light

Infrared LightFiber optic lines are the future of digital data transmission, and that is an understatement. Statistics speak for themselves: copper wires fall massively behind fiber optic lines in terms of bandwidth. The former offers 1.5 Mb/second of transfer over more than 1.5 miles. As for the latter, it’s a monumental jump to over 2.5 Gb/second spanning 124 miles. And that’s just for a typical phone line.

Digital Data… On Waves Of Light?

Infrared light carries data much like copper wires. Input devices (i.e., keyboards, mice or voice/video recorders) convert physical action into code which can ‘ride’ electric current through the wire. Once it arrives at the destination, the code is interpreted as digital information and displayed on an output device (i.e., monitor). Just replace the electric current and its conductor (copper wire), and you’re all set.

And it’s not just wired connections at play here. Infrared light can also transmit data wirelessly — a connection that’s purportedly 1,430 times faster than Bluetooth and 46 times faster than Wi-Fi. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) in Dresden, Germany claims an astonishing data rate of 1 Gb/second, which opens up a mountain of possibilities for real-world applications.

What is IR Light, Exactly?

Infrared light is similar to the ‘conventional’ form of light. Its only difference concerns wavelength: IR light’s wavelength is longer and out of the range at which our eyes can see. That is why IR light is invisible. But, this very quality is the main reason engineers and scientists are extremely careful about letting IR light leak out of its containers, specifically those fiber optic lines.

Supposed Dangers

Fiber optic cables are designed to completely seal infrared light within. If the light leaks, it can wreak havoc on the eyes. In some cases, the damage is barely even noticeable. It’s also worth noting that IR light comes in various ‘power levels,’ and the higher the power level, the more likely it is to leak out the fiber and cause problems. This is why it is not safe to have cheap fiber optic cables — the risk of visual impairment is just too high.

IR light might be incredibly useful, but it also has its bad sides. For now, people must be careful when using it to its full potential, or it’ll eventually bite back in the long run.