Visible light communications (VLC),
a technology that uses rapidly modulated
light transmission for data communication, is a top research topic for Karlicek’s
team, and it could be coming soon to a
retailer near you. Retail chain Target
is said to have deployed VLC systems
paired with its Android app in 100 U.S.
stores to provide both in-store, GPS-like
maps (a feature called “geolocation”) and to beam location-based coupons and other incentives directly to shoppers’
smartphones. Sensors in store lighting fixtures can track individual phones (and their users), while product information is
relayed back to the phones, through their cameras, in a process
similar to that used with fiber optic cable.
“LEDs are electronic light-emitters that can be turned on
and off many tens of thousands of times per second,” Karlicek
said, adding that emitters are controlled by direct-current drivers that can add modulation faster than people can see.
While retail stores currently offer the best business case for
Indoor GPS offers strong ROI
this technology. Karlicek sees a far broader range of possibilities
in locating visitors in complex facilities, such as hospitals, or
even making life easier for a mechanical or electrical technician
called in to examine a boiler or breaker
panel in that hospital’s basement.
“The service history could be down-
loaded directly over the lighting to a
tablet,” he said.
For manufacturers, these technology
advances are coming at an important
time. Many are seeking new business models for lighting prod-
ucts, such as lamps, ballasts/drivers and fixtures, with lifespans
that now may reach a decade instead of a year or less. Acuity
Brands—which is said to be the supplier involved in Target’s
pilot installations, though neither company will talk—made
a large investment in this rapidly advancing market with its
acquisition last year of the Boston-based startup ByteLight.
This company has developed technology that uses Bluetooth
low energy (BLE) communications to pinpoint a shopper’s
location even without direct line-of-sight access to that user’s
smartphone camera, which is what senses the light.
ByteLight has deployed VLC systems across 10 million
square feet of retail space, according to Dan Ryan, the com-
pany’s cofounder and former chief executive officer and now
Teaching old lighting
systems new tricks
“Every IoT company
in the world has their
eye on lighting.”
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute