What is infrared?

If you watch TV, chances are you’ve been “beaming” or using Infrared devices for most of your life. The commands from the remote control to the TV travel on infrared light waves instead of through a cable. Actually, the first TV remote control was developed by Zenith Radio Corporation in 1950 and was named “Lazy Bones.” A few years later the first wireless TV remote controller “Flashmatic” was introduced. The first remote controls included buttons that turned the TV on and off. By the early 1980s, the industry incorporated infrared, or IR, remote technology into the devices. Today, remote controls are made for many other consumer electronics products, including VCRs, cable and satellite boxes, and home audio receivers.

Ninety-nine percent of all TV sets, VCRs and DVD players sold in the United States include remote controls! When you use your remote, you are sending a small burst of invisible data (in the form of photons of precisely modulated infrared light) to the TV. You can’t see the light, because it lies in the frequency range just below  that of visible red light.

Infrared is not to be confused with radio waves or sound waves, it is basically a light wave and waves are made of energy. Light waves come in a continuous variety of sizes, frequencies and energies. The amount of energy in a light wave is proportionally related to its frequency. Light not only vibrates at different frequencies, it also travels at different speeds.

Light waves can move as fast as 186,000 miles per second (in a vacuum), which makes light the fastest phenomenon in the universe. Light waves slow down when they travel inside substances, such as air, water, glass, etc. They cannot pass through solid objects.

The instructions for remote control devices are translated from a digital pattern into electrical signals, and then sent in one direction, from the remote to the TV. Remotes are ‘send only devices’ or uni-directional. With the help of IR photodiodes the devices can “see” or detect the light that transmits the data. The TV can understand the instructions because it has the  circuitry to convert the signals back to the original digital pattern of the information. IrDA enabled devices can “communicate.” They are bi-directional. The technology behind bi-directional communications between devices is very complicated, and this is why the IrDA was created.

Think of it this way; IrDA technology is a secure, low-cost, convenient cable  replacement technology -excellent for many specific applications and environments. It continues to be developed by many talented and skilled individuals from hundred of companies who, over the years, have comprised the Infrared Data Association!

IrDA’s Infrared is successful as a communications transport technology because:

  • IrDA is inexpensive! Components cost pennies!
  • IrDA is FAST (up to 100 mbps and soon to leap frog from 1 Gbt/s to 5 & 10 Gbit/s mbps).
  • IrDA enabled devices consume less power (minimal drain of the batteries of the devices),
  • IrDA Data is secure. Data being transmitted via infrared is very difficult to intercept or hack because it is directional (you choose where to send it). Your data is safe because it cannot go through walls or objects. Virtually eliminates eavesdropping by un-welcomed recipients! Perfect for applications where sireless payment transfers are needed. Such as buying a soda out of a vending machine, or paying for something in a retail (restaurants and stores) or mobile environment (i.e. toll booths).
  • IrDA is safe, there is no harm to the eye as long as it is used correctly.
  • IrDA requires conscious, deliberate connection and control! You aim and control where your data goes, and/or who receives it!
  • IrDA has Point to point, Peer-to-Peer range. Your data is close at hand! The connection range is about one meter, and the angle is 30 degrees.
  • IrDA is ubiquitous.  It is globally adopted and implemented in over 1 billion products throughout the world.
  • IrDA standards are non-proprietary. Thus far they are free, which helps promotes adoption and makes possible interoperability across platform, brands, and product type if properly implemented.
  • IrDA is relatively free from regulation. Infrared frequencies are just below the visible light on the electromagnetic scale so there is no restriction on anyone who wants to use them.
  • IrDA has no radio frequency interference issues or signal conflicts. This is especially important in critical environments such as hospitals and airports.