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September 27, 2018

At Trident Warrior, Engineers Shine Light on New Wireless Technology

testing the Li-Fi wireless link

From left: Ryan Mennecke and Edward Holzinger aboard the USS Carl Vinson during Trident Warrior 2018, testing the Li-Fi wireless link under maximum channel capacitance during catapult aircraft launching.

Credit: APL

USS Carl Vinson

USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) supported Trident Warriors experiments while taking part in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise.

Credit: U.S. Navy

Engineers with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Maryland, traveled on the USS Carl Vinson this summer to demonstrate light fidelity (Li-Fi), a next-generation secure mobile networking technology for wireless communication between devices using light to transmit data and position.

The exercise was a part of Trident Warrior 2018, a large, annual at-sea field experiment in which the Navy identifies warfighting capability gaps and provides innovative solutions in an operational environment. Several organizations, including APL, worked alongside sailors to experiment with a variety of technologies, including warfare systems, cybersecurity capabilities, and network and communication capabilities.

Li-Fi uses common light-emitting diode bulbs to transmit data. It works by switching LEDs on and off at over a million cycles per second — too quick for the human eye to detect, but not for the photodiode unit on the receiving end that decodes these modulations into a signal that is, in turn, decoded like any other signal.

Operational Applications

The military has been exploring Li-Fi for secure high data rate communications for facilities, vehicles and submarines.

“The Navy wanted to see what the effects of shock and vibration would have on the wireless link and the equipment,” explained APL communications engineer Ryan Mennecke, who along with APL’s Eddie Holzinger led the Li-Fi experiments. “We designed and manufactured custom mounts to install commercial Li-Fi equipment within the library of the aircraft carrier, which is located underneath catapult three. The test included setting up a standalone network to stream live video and collect test data of the optical link.”

Although the equipment failed during extreme vibration testing at APL, he said, results were better on the ship. “The optical link performed as expected with no loss in [signal-to-noise ratio] or throughput related to the shock and vibration of the catapult system that was launching and retrieving aircraft three feet above the system,” he said. “The system performed flawlessly.”

Mennecke began exploring the technology through an internal grant to examine atmospheric channel modeling for Li-Fi links to offload data from submersible vehicles to drones.

APL began conducting basic research on Li-Fi technologies for the Defense Information Systems Agency in 2016. The agency has also since enlisted the Laboratory to test and evaluate commercial Li-Fi products and set up operational Li-Fi labs at DISA headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, and at APL.

The Laboratory is quickly establishing itself as a thought leader in this area. Mennecke serves on an IEEE working group to develop Li-Fi standards. Other organizations, including Pacific Command, have asked Laboratory Li-Fi experts to speak about their work and the future of the technology.

Media contact: Paulette Campbell, 240-228-6792, Paulette.Campbell@jhuapl.edu

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.