Scientists propose an optical wireless alternative to radio communication

Although optical communications have been in use since the 1980s, industry has continued to rely on radio transmission technology in settings such as satellite communications, to avoid the effects of atmospheric turbulence, a phenomenon that causes lasers to away from their intended target.

While there have been advances in the use of optical wireless communication in recent years, a recent discovery addresses the problem of turbulence by using a very fast steering mirror that can correct for turbulence at a rate of hundreds of times per second.

A new resource for telecommunications

The above means that superior optical wireless transmission can be used in more environments, reducing the need to rely on slower radio transmissions.

Principal Investigator of this project, Dr. Shane Walsh, explains how his team found a way to use optical communications to lock onto a fast-moving target in a turbulent environment, with a high-speed, uninterrupted signal. “This is the culmination of more than two years of research and testing and takes ground-based communications into space from what was effectively turbulent ‘dial’ speed to super-fast ‘broadband’ speed (…) I’m proud of it. that our team of WA researchers have been able to contribute a piece to this critical communications puzzle, combining existing research with our team’s specialized expertise.”commented.

The team’s discovery was put to the test using a drone, which simulates a fast-moving target. As a next step, the researchers plan to test the technology with a higher-altitude aircraft, and ultimately a spacecraft, in low-Earth orbit.

Now, the researchers are developing a purpose-built optical communications ground station that, when complete, will allow them to further develop and commercialize the technology. It is expected to be used by both industry and government, in applications as diverse as spacecraft communications, meteorology, defense and disaster management.