In a world as connected as ours, the ways to connect devices in inexhaustible. Just look around you, what do you see? Maybe a WLAN WiFi connection or cables connecting one component of your computer to another. Many of the connectivity technologies that we use today have gone wireless and why shouldn’t they? Wireless is convenient, it removes the need for any messy systems of cables and it provides portability like no other means of connectivity. Providing internet is the easiest when done wirelessly. Imagine walking around with your phone with an ethernet cable attached to it. A nightmare. However, smaller devices or devices where using entire radio waves (WiFi) to transfer small packets of data might be an exaggerated waste of resources, we need to find cheaper methods of communication. Thankfully, we have IR to our rescue.
Ever wondered how with a press of a TV remove button, we can do anything on our TV Some TV remotes nowadays might work on Bluetooth but features such as volume and power control are still very much Infra-red’s territory. Infra-red is an electromagnetic wave with a wavelength of 700 nanometres to a millimetre which has a history of being used across remote controls to operate devices wirelessly. Less frequently, infra-red can also be used to actually communicate with 1s and 0s or morse code. The limitations of infrared are numerous and the use cases limited, however, infrared provides one of the cheapest methods of easily sending data across a room with just a click of a button.
So, how does infrared actually work? The setup is a simple one. On one end, for example on a TV remote control, we have something called an infrared LED. These LEDs don’t really emit light as LEDs are known to emit but they emit infrared waves. Infrared waves are invisible by nature which explains why we don’t see a visible linkage between the TV and the remote. A typical remote control will have pre-coded functionalities inside a miniature memory; these functionalities or features are transmitted by the infrared LED in form of a special packet of data. Now this packet can either consist of basic 1s and 0s, but there are other ways of transmitting this data, as well. In these 1s and 0s are instructions on what feature the user has requested for. When these packets in form of infrared rays reach the device, in our case the television, another special component called the infrared transmitter stores this data in its memory. The data is decoded using a special chip on the TV and voila! The functionality you asked for has been served. IR Transmission
The ease of use of this technology is clearly one of its significant advantages. Infrared is cheap and reliable. An ordinary infrared LED can last for many decades depending on the durability and usage. Then why isn’t this technology used everywhere? Well, as mentioned earlier the wavelength of infrared can range from quite high values; this means that a normal infrared wave will not be able penetrate even a moderately thick piece of paper. This means that any obstruction between the infrared LED and the transmitter will cause the system to not function. Although infrared waves can carry up to a few bits of data, the data starts to get skewed as we increase this quantity. This means that not a lot of data can be transmitted through infrared waves, their capacity is limited to, perhaps, just TV functions.
Despite of all the disadvantages, infrared technology has probably, still, lots of decades of lifetime left before it dies off. The mediocre performance of this technology is one of its biggest advantages and that alone makes me, personally, adore it as a really significant household tech.
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