Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 3, 2013

ED VASICEK: Invention competition in downtown Kokomo

'Li-Fi' Web signals vs. hybrid capacitors


Kokomo Tribune

---- — I met Elmer for lunch downtown at Subway. We were chatting about all the changes here in Kokomo. We had just passed the Kokomantis, and the Subway location itself was new.

First Farmers Bank was buying the Armstrong-Landon Building. Ivy Tech Community College — already partly relocated at the former Johanning Center — was leasing much of that building. The new parking garage with condos on top is in the works. The library was expanding. The new YMCA will become a new landmark. Banners for the IU Kokomo Cougars advertised the school’s expanding vision, and so will the new apartments near IUK (and essentially serve as dormitories). New senior citizen and veteran housing is on the way — and a host of new small businesses have surfaced. Even pessimistic Elmer agreed Kokomo is on the move.

“Hi, Emil — we’re over here!” Elmer signaled to his brother. Emil joined us at the table; we had already picked up his favorite sub.

“Well, I have my article, guys. Ed, do you have yours?” Emil inquired.

Elmer had volunteered to serve as judge to decide which of us had found the better article about important inventions in recent news. The loser had to pay for the meal.

“Yep, it’s my turn to go first. Here is my article from a website called Quartz. It is about something called ‘Li-Fi,’ sending Internet signals over light.”

“‘Current wireless networks have a problem: The more popular they become, the slower they are. Researchers at Fudan University in Shanghai have just become the latest to demonstrate a technology that transmits data as light instead of radio waves, which gets around the congestion issue and could be ten times faster than traditional Wi-Fi.

“‘In dense urban areas, the range within which Wi-Fi signals are transmitted is increasingly crowded with noise — mostly, other Wi-Fi signals. What’s more, the physics of electromagnetic waves sets an upper limit to the bandwidth of traditional Wi-Fi. The short version: you can only transmit so much data at a given frequency. The lower the frequency of the wave, the less it can transmit.

“‘Li-Fi doesn’t work in the dark or outdoors, but it only has to be a supplement to existing wireless networks to be valuable.’”

“This is exciting,” Elmer chimed. “The other day, I tested my Internet speed to different locations, and New York was ten times slower than most other cities. You would think with all the money they take from us, they could at least give us fast Internet everywhere. Those crooks are just ...”

“Elmer,” Emil interrupted, “let me have my turn. I have one from Car and Driver about a new type of electric car that Volvo is putting out. Instead of batteries, it has a special capacitor.”

“Isn’t a capacitor the same thing as a condenser?” Elmer questioned.

“Only car mechanics use that older term,” Emil explained. “A capacitor — or condenser — is a component that essentially stores electricity, usually for a short time. Here is the article:

“‘In 2010, Volvo teamed up with Imperial College London (ICL) to begin work on a novel approach to stripping weight out of vehicles: replacing batteries with super capacitors. But these weren’t just any super capacitors — the electrical storage devices were integrated into the bodywork. Specifically, the research Volvo tapped into was an ICL professor’s investigation into structural carbon-fiber panels that double as super capacitors.

“‘... Volvo claims that further down the road, this technology could lead to a 15-percent reduction in weight for hybrid and electric vehicles by obfuscating the need for heavy chemical batteries. Capacitors can recharge and dump their energy far quicker than conventional batteries — ideal for short bursts of power and capturing braking energy.’”

“Wow, this verdict is going to be hard,” Elmer explained. “Both of these articles are pretty interesting. What happens if there is a tie?”

“Well,” I informed him, “then you pay for the meal.”

“In that case, I am glad there is no tie. Emil, you win.”

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@gmail.com.