AR Glasses Leverage Li-Fi Connectivity for Secure Internet Connections

By Claire Swedberg

Vuzix is offering wireless connectivity with Signify's Trulifi solution, consisting of a Li-Fi dongle that attaches to smart glasses and ceiling-mounted transceivers, so data can be transmitted securely at military, government and healthcare facilities.

Vuzix makes smart eyeglasses using augmented reality (AR) to provide workers in multiple industries with a wearable computer. The company's products, which merge physical and virtual information, connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or other broadband networks. This year, Vuzix has added Li-Fi functionality so users can access a connection without leveraging radio frequency (RF)-based networks. That means companies can gain a connection in secure locations using the light emitted from specialized LED lamps. The system leverages  Signify's Trulifi solution.

Global lighting manufacturer Signify moved into the wireless connectivity sector in March by releasing Trulifi as an alternative to other broadband connections. The company says the light-based streaming of data can be more secure than traditional broadband services, while offering coverage in places where Wi-Fi or other RF systems are unavailable. Organizations that have begun employing Trulifi include factories, government agencies and public venues.

Vuzix's smart glasses

Li-Fi leverages light waves as an alternative to RF systems for two-way wireless communication, according to Floris Maassen, Signify's Trulifi marketing and communications manager. "By modulating an LED," he explains, "you can essentially transport packages of data via light." Li-Fi uses infrared or visible light, with transmission by LED lamps. Trulifi's connection is always on, Maassen says, and it transmits at up to 220 megabits per second of connectivity for augmented- or virtual-reality applications. Because the transmission does not take place on a radio-based protocol, he adds, the signal does not leave the room, and it provides a greater level of security for technology users.

Li-Fi is already being tested at sites where RF is not allowed due to safety regulations. "We're not there to replace Wi-Fi, but to provide high-speed fast communications in places where security and health really matter," says John Parsons, Signify's go-to-market leader for augmented and virtual reality. Warehouses that would benefit from Li-Fi would be those that might have an explosive risk, he explains. Costs are not prohibitively expensive, the company reports, though it is relatively more costly than Wi-Fi. A reduced need for cables brings that cost down.

Floris Maassen

Vuzix's smart glasses are already being used in sectors such as healthcare, retail, manufacturing and information services. With the glasses, users can communicate with others for remote support, or they can share or receive content relevant to the tasks they are carrying out. The glasses include a high-resolution camera, a Wi-Fi-, Li-Fi- or Bluetooth-based Internet connection, and visuals of any data being shared. One application is in healthcare, the company reports. At a teaching hospital, for instance, surgeons can share video of their surgical procedures in real time.

The glasses can zoom based on voice command. In that way, students could watch surgeons' procedures in real time, hear their voices and interact with them. On the other hand, says Paul Travers, Vuzix's president and CEO, a surgeon could use the glasses to receive support from others who could provide feedback about surgical procedures, as well as make suggestions or share diagrams, pictures or other information. The glasses can record data and feature 64 gigabytes of on-board memory.

For warehouse or logistics work, operators can use the technology to pick products according to orders, Vuzix explains, then view the pick lists with their glasses rather than carrying or looking down at a tablet or screen. The glasses can be integrated with a barcode scanner that users may wear on their wrist. In another use case, line workers on a power pole could follow step-by-step instructions they'd learned and recorded in a classroom or with a trainer.

John Parsons

For Vuzix users, however, restrictions on Wi-Fi exist in certain sectors, such as some healthcare environments. Hospitals may restrict the use of RF transmissions to prevent data collisions, for example. "As soon as you get into an environment with a lot of RF signals," Parsons says, "you have a potential to interfere with the network, and that's where Li-Fi is a solution." In the meantime, a government agency or contractor may be more concerned about a Wi-Fi network's security.

The partnership with Vuzix began with an idea from Parsons, who had previously worked at Vuforia, a  PTC Technology company, where he was involved with augmented reality. He was aware of the security challenge of Wi-Fi networks for AR systems, especially at military, defense and other government agencies. "I approached Paul [Travers at Vuzix]," he recalls, "and said 'We can Li-Fi-enable these glasses where they need to have AI headsets and need to be wireless, fast and secure.'"

Vuzix has now incorporated the Trulifi solution for those that want to upgrade their AR glasses, and it is also adding Trulifi into new systems for customers that request it. The first company to use the Li-Fi functionality in the glasses is Signify itself, Parsons says, as the firm is installing the system with Vuzix glasses at its own manufacturing sites in Poland.

Paul Travers

Users would acquire the Trulifi dongle that attaches to the Vuzix glasses via a USB port. They would also install Signify's Li-Fi transceivers, which look similar to a Wi-Fi node but send and receive data via light. These transceivers could be deployed on ceilings, for example, then be plugged into an access point. Each emits data via light, and the light emitted is typically invisible to the human eye. The device in the glasses, however, captures that transmission and responds.

With the inclusion of Li-Fi, Vuzix is leveraging a cloud-based platform from  Gemvision to provide remote support. The platform is equipped with a call-center dashboard for external users and allows remote experts to collaborate and illustrate during live video sessions.

According to Maassen, the system requires a line of sight and can communicate when it comes within range of the sensor—typically, about 15 to 20 feet. That transmission range accommodates high ceilings, such as those at a manufacturing site. Multiple sensors running in a large space provide connectivity to Vuzix users that could potentially cover an entire site. The Trulifi-enabled glasses can transmit up to 220 megabits per second or 1 gigabyte in 36 seconds. That high speed results in better-quality video, Maassen says.

Vuzix completed its testing of Trulifi with its smart glasses earlier this year, Travers says, and the company is now taking customer orders, with shipping expected to begin during the second quarter of this year. Defense manufacturers, healthcare companies and other companies are seeking to pilot or launch the solution. At present, there are multiple Trulifi deployments under way, he adds. For instance, the  Philips Stadium in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, is leveraging the Li-Fi technology to provide visitors in its VIP space to connect to the Internet.  Wieland Electric is piloting Trulifi at its German headquarters for machine and equipment networking.