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Advances in infrared data communications pave way for the wireless office

For Immediate Release: October 27, 1998

Kennewick, WA - While the idea of the "paperless" office has yet to be realized, new research in infrared data communications is paving the way for the "wireless" office, factory or classroom. Washington Technology Center (WTC) is funding a collaborative research effort between Washington State University and Belhaven Applied Technologies of Kennewick to develop a system that will enable computers on a network to communicate with each other using infrared light instead of wires.

The use of infrared (IR) light as a mode of data communications is a rapidly emerging technology. Examples include television remote controls, notebook PCs which can communicate with printers by pointing, and synchronized electronic telephone books. In addition to being wireless, IR has a higher bandwidth than radio frequencies, and unlike radio communication, does not require obtaining a license. The primary disadvantage is that the communication path is restricted to line-of-sight. If something blocks the light source, the device cannot communicate.

WTC-funded research aims to overcome this primary disadvantage. Belka Kraimeche, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Washington State University Tri-Cities campus, and lead researcher for this project, has developed software protocols that will provide for multiple-access, multi-level optical communications. Computers that are not on a direct line-of-sight with the network server can still receive messages via a relay system from other computers in the system. "This system can be used where several people work together on computers in the same room, as in an office or classroom, or any room where several computers gather data and communicate with each other, as in a manufacturing environment", said Kraimeche.

Belhaven Applied Technologies, Inc., a high-tech start-up company, had spent two years researching this project prior to its involvement with WTC. The company had developed a system of hardware and software that made multiple access infrared communications possible, but needed special expertise in the area of communications protocols. That's where Dr. Kraimeche and WTC stepped in. WTC's mission is to initiate, facilitate and fund research collaborations between high tech companies and university researchers in Washington state. According to Thomas Bayha, company president, "WTC has been instrumental in helping us meet critical technical challenges as we move toward our R&D; goals."

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