UNIVERSITY PARK -- When Mohsen Kavehrad envisions the house of
the future, he sees homeowners able to turn up the heat, turn on the
lights and start dinner cooking before they ever leave the office --
courtesy of remotely transmitted, pencil-thin infrared beams.
"Infrared transmission is being tried in Europe, and there are
some companies in Silicon Valley working with it as well," said
Kavehrad, the holder of the Penn State W.L. Weiss chair in
telecommunications. "We in the Center for Information and
Communications Technology Research are in the process of designing
an infrared technology that can go into many applications, from
museums to supermarkets to homes and offices."
Wireless networks already provide some mobility for the
information-hungry consumer, but they have distance limitations.
Kavehrad's technology can transmit two gigabtyes a second and is
free from the electro-magnetic interference that can result in
transmission errors in current wireless networks.
The Penn State professor of electrical engineering's system
involves bouncing infrared light off ceilings, sofas, even the
family dog -- provided the animal isn't black -- connecting
computers to one another and to a central transmitter. Along with
exponentially increasing transmission capacity, the technology
doesn't require line-of-sight transmission as with television remote
With most offices wired for high-speed networks, Kavehrad sees
wireless homes as the next frontier where computers won't just
"talk" with other computers, but also with sensory units such as
heat and light controls.
Infrared wireless networks have several advantages. Unlike the
radio spectrum, infrared frequencies don't require licenses. They
also pose no danger to human health -- a concern Kavehrad has about
"And the technology components are very cheap," Kavehrad added.
"While there's a lot of engineering and clever things used to design
our infrared system, the components are available off the
The university has applied for a patent on the infrared
technology and is in discussions with several multinational
companies about licensing it, said Ron Huss, director of the
university's Intellectual Property Office. Since Kavehrad publicized
the infrared system at an international conference in July, interest
Kavehrad first became intrigued with the potential of wireless
telecommunications when he worked for Bell Laboratories in New
Jersey in the 1980s. With divestiture looming, he opted to leave the
industry for Penn State. In 1997, he founded the Penn State Center
for Information and Communications Technology Research, a "think
tank" for future telecommunications systems and networks ready for
the information age.
The center has received funding from some of the biggest names in
telecommunications, including Lucent, IBM and Lockheed Martin. The
National Science Foundation also has supported the center and
specifically funded the infrared research project, Kavehrad
Kavehrad holds 11 patents, two of which are with Penn State, all
involving some aspect of telecommunications, including fiber optics
Other countries have adopted wireless communications more rapidly
than the United States, largely because our existing
telecommunications infrastructure had been adequate. The advent of
the Internet changed that, as consumers desired faster access to
higher quality voice, video and data than the industry's standard --
the copper twisted pair -- could ever deliver to homes and
Enter wireless telecommunications. Wireless networks have much
lower installation costs and are faster to deploy compared to their
wired counterparts. But wireless has its own challenges.
"As people demand even higher capacities, there will be more
complex problems to be solved," Kavehrad said. "There is no end to
the future generations of wireless."
While those problems are intriguing, Kavehrad has a more
immediate goal: making his lab wireless. Right now, a labyrinth of
cables connects the tens of PCs in the center.
Margaret Hopkins can be reached at 231-4643.
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