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We head to the desert to test SLD Laser's lighting and Li-Fi data tech

The company's Li-Fi system blows Wi-Fi transmission rates and LED lumens out of the water.

Justin Lofton prerunner
SLD Laser
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

While CES 2020 may be full of the latest flying taxi technology and futuristic concepts, you can also find simpler innovations that are bound to make everyone's life easier in the near future. Case in point is SLD Laser, a company that is, ahem, shedding light not only on traditional illumination but also on data communications.

SLD Laser's white lights are 10 times brighter than the LED lights found in most new cars. Unfortunately, our pesky government regulations won't allow full-bore laser headlights. The laser-light tech found in certain BMW models, for example, are dialed down to please the Feds. There is one place where rules don't matter, and that's in off-road racing. And that's why, to see what this tech can do, I went out to the Nevada desert to ride shotgun with three-time Mint 400 winner Justin Lofton.

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The truck was wired with both an LED and a Baja Designs laser light bar using the tech from SLD Laser. The stock headlights were fitted, too, and cycling through the three methods of illumination, it's clear that the laser lights are crisper, brighter and project further into the desert. As an off-road racer myself, the advantage to running these lights immediately became clear to me. After all, you can only drive where you can see, and the further down the track you can see, the faster you can go. 

But this tech is about more than just lighting. Forget about Wi-Fi, SLD Laser has developed Li-Fi that can transmit a whopping 20 gigabytes per second of data, just using light. While I don't pretend to understand the physics behind it, I can tell you that current Wi-Fi technology needs more channels to send half as much data, so yeah, the laser tech is much better.

Of course, the transmitter and receiving channels must be in the line of sight of each other (Einstein said light can bend but only when subjected to extreme gravity, and I don't think your commute is taking you anywhere near the sun these days), but there are myriad applications for this tech in the automotive world. The light you see here is doing double duty: illuminating your path and transmitting data. No need for extra sensors, it's all in the headlamp assembly. An autonomous car could be able talk to other self-driving vehicles on the road much quicker, making future instances of hands-off driving a whole lot safer.