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Retailers Test ByteLight's Light-Based Indoor Positioning Technology

The system modulates the light emitted by an LED fixture, and includes an app that enables a mobile phone to determine its location based on the light signals received by its camera.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 24, 2014

Boston startup company ByteLight is marketing indoor-positioning technology that enables an LED light fixture to communicate a unique identifier to individuals with smartphones—not via Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon technology, but rather with tiny pulses in the light it emits. The technology, known as visual light communication, or light field communication (LFC), consists of software running on a silicon chip installed in an LED lamp. The software instructs the lamp to transmit its unique ID number in the form of a flicker (imperceptible to the human eye), as well as an application running on an individual's mobile phone that decodes the light pulses perceived by the phone's camera, in order to identify the phone's location.

The result is a new method for capturing an individual's attention via a cell phone, and for sharing details related to specific locations around that person. For example, the system could indicate where to find products displayed within a supermarket, or where a company's booth at a conference is located in relation to a user's phone.

Using an individual's mobile phone or other device, such as an iPad, the app can determine a person's location based on the light signals received by its camera.
ByteLight developed the solution as an alternative to the GPS technology used in mobile phones, which provides location data regarding the phone itself, but not indoors, where satellite transmission is typically blocked.

Three retailers are currently conducting tests of the LFC technology at their own laboratories, two of which plan to deploy the solution at their stores beginning in May 2014, according to Jordan Thayer, ByteLight's director of product development. The solution consists of a lamp manufacturer's own LFC-based chip, which can be built into LED lamps by that manufacturer in order to prompt a specific pulsing of light.

Retailers in China are already using the technology to enable a loyalty program in which users tap their phones against a ByteLight-provided LED device known as an LFC reader, to capture the ID encoded in the light emitted by the device, and thereby gain loyalty points at such stores as Yummie House, Happy Lemon, Carrefour, Besyo and Golden Phoenix. ByteLight partnered with software company Appconomy, which provides the mobile marketing platform on which the loyalty program's data is managed.

The system is also in use at the Boston Museum of Science, where 40 LEDs utilizing the ByteLight technology were installed to better engage visitors in one exhibit hall, known as the Cahners ComputerPlace. A limited number of iPads are loaned to visitors, and as they move around the exhibit, the tablet's built-in camera receives a light-pulsed ID number. An app running on the device forwards that data to the museum's server—which, in turn, delivers information to the iPad regarding the exhibit at which that particular LED is located.

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