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Project Firefly

One area that InfoLab21's academics specialise in, and the source of the latest commercialisation project, is ubiquitous computing. This may sound complicated, but the concept is actually quite simple. Computers have become something that people take for granted. As this has happened the computers have become smaller, faster and more powerful. They are ubiquitous- that is, all around us, in our lives and our daily routines. Computers are becoming more embedded into objects that we use everyday- phones, cookers, cars etc, and by embedding technology into existing products it is possible to create new products.

This is exactly what two academics at InfoLab21's Computing Department have done as part of a project called Firefly. They chose a simple item, a fairy light, and gave it a "technological upgrade" by embedding a tiny computer, creating the next generation of Fairy lights. This innovation will potentially revolutionise lighting displays like the Blackpool Illuminations and have great potential for advertisers.

The lights will work as a normal string of fairy lights, they also look exactly the same as a normal string of fairy lights but they are all individually controllable. This means that patterns and effects are much easier to implement and can be far more complicated than those that are available at the moment. In addition, the lights requre fewer cables, which makes deployment of the lighting array much easier.

The lights have been designed with scalability in mind and to get the best from the lights they are suited to being deployed in large numbers. Lights deployed on a large scale can be treated as a large display screen, each light representing a pixel. Each light can be manipulated to flash individually and in one of a series of colours. This means that it is now possible to create moving 3D coloured images using Christmas lights.

With funding from the University, applications to patent the technology have been filed and the team are now in negotiation with several local manufacturing companies to develop the product on a commercial scale under licence.

Currently the first large production run of lights is underway and these will hopefully be unveiled at a display at InfoLab21 this Christmas. This will complete the proof of concept and demonstrate to partners and clients the huge potential of this new product.

This project is still in relatively early stages, but the local manufacturing company chosen to partner the academic team could profit considerably and this will inevitably lead to the creation of jobs. This is just one example of how we are putting ideas into action for the benefit of regional companies and there are many more projects under development.

Thu 07 September 2006