Get ready to shop in a store where the store lighting is telling your smartphone about coupons, specials, and product placement.
Next week at the big Lightfair show in Las Vegas, GE will show a new generation of LED lighting fixtures that communicate through visible light to your smartphone’s camera.
“Anything that lets you personalize the shopping experience, particularly if you can do it in real time, is almost the Holy Grail,” Steven Kirn told VentureBeat. He’s executive director of the Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research at the University of Florida.
He noted that a variety of other approaches have been attempted to personalize shopping info, ranging from motion-sensing coupon printers and pricey RFID technology to implementations of Apple’s iBeacons.
“But if you can incorporate it into a lighting system you’re going to put up anyway,” Kirn told us, “it becomes pretty attractive.”
The lights employ Bytelight technology. According to its website, Bytelight:
…creates an indoor location tracking system using light pulses from an LED bulb. [Software on a microchip in the LED] manipulates the light pulses issued by the bulb to send data by flickering very fast — too fast for the human eye to see. The camera on a smartphone reads the pulsing light and a mobile app decodes the signals to determine the location of the user.
A retailer with these kinds of smart lights can send localized, personal information — but without adding another system in order to get location-based services.
Walmart has committed to buying GE LED lighting for its superstores because they use 40 percent less electricity — meaning as much as $34,000 in savings per store, per year. It’s not yet clear if the giant retailer expects to use the visible light communications version to let shoppers know there’s a special in aisle three.
In February, Phillips introduced a similar LED lighting that also offers location-based communications via Visual Light Communications. In making its announcement, the manufacturer offered a possible use case:
If a shopper plans to make a Mexican meal for dinner, the app on their smart phone can serve as a “personal shopper.” It can point him or her to the aisle where they would find a jar of guacamole, or, if they preferred to make it fresh, plot a route through the aisles to the avocados, tomatoes, onions, chilies and limes. As the shopper approaches various products, the app could also introduce new brands available in the store or make suggestions for alternate recipes.
Not a few observers have pointed out that the Rubicon, beyond which the Internet of things becomes a big part of everyday life, could be smart LED lighting.
And, given that some people report headaches or other discomfort because of flickering in fluorescent lights, one wonders if this high-pitched flickering will become the subject of a future story on health effects of these LED smart lights.