Faster Than the Blink of an Eye: LED Lights Flash Invisible Product Information at Shoppers’ Smartphones
June 2, 2014
A few years ago, if you had told someone that a light fixture in a store was sending you signals, they would probably think that you had lost it. Say the same thing today and you’ll be a hip early adopter.
GE and the Boston tech company ByteLight just unveiled an LED lighting system that can communicate with customers’ smartphones and tablets while they are shopping.
The LED fixtures, which are made by GE, emit flickers that are imperceptible to the eye but visible to the phones’ cameras. This technology is called Visible Light Communication (VLC) and enables the phone to understand what the light is saying. The lights can also talk to smart devices over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), creating a robust and multiprotocol communication platform.
ByteLight’s technology combines information from VLC, Bluetooth and motion sensors inside the phone, and determines exactly where the user is within a few feet.
The system communicates with shoppers via the retailer’s app. Once you turn on the app, the system can greet you in the parking lot, tell you about special sales, offer coupons and provide other useful information.
The technology could help increase in-store traffic and spending and better connect shoppers and retailers. “The ability to influence the shopper standing directly in front of a product is a huge value moment for the retailer,” says Jeff Bisberg, strategic innovation leader at GE Lighting. “At the same time, we will be helping the shopper to make better shopping decisions.”
A recent report from ABI Research found that indoor location technologies and app advertising will drive $5 billion in revenue for retailers by 2019.
GE Lumination IS Series LED lights and ByteLight’s technology will allow retailers to stream data to customers’ smartphones. Top Image: GE’s LED testing facility in NELA Park in Cleveland, Ohio.
The platform could also be used inside any indoor space where there are lights, including hospitals and power plants. “We are at the edge of the Industrial Internet, where it blurs into the Internet of Everything,” Bisberg says. “This technology is an on-ramp that will take us into the digital future.”
Bisberg says that the system could supply workers with “granular information” like ambient temperature, how many people are at a certain location and where they’re located. “We could also have the phone buzz with a warning when they enter a no-go zone inside a power plant,” he says. “The applications are virtually limitless.”
GE Lighting is demonstrating the technology at Lightfair, North America’s largest annual architectural and commercial trade lighting show, this week. “It’s a minimally viable product,” Bisberg says, using the argot of “lean startups.”
“We are still trying to get insights into the marketplace and determine what customers want.”