Qualcomm as a partner is the common link in plans from GE Lighting and Acuity to deliver LED-based lighting products that can enable location services for smartphones in applications such as retail.
It's really no surprise that indoor location services based on intelligent LED-based lighting products is a major theme at LightFair International (LFI). The technology holds the potential to enhance retail shopping experiences, and retailer profits, and is seen as symbiotic to the larger trend of networked solid-state lighting (SSL). At LFI, GE Lighting and Acuity Brands made announcements about their plans in the location sector.
LED-based lighting can deliver location data by modulating the LEDs in a way that humans can’t detect while smartphones or tablets with cameras can decipher data used by an app on the device. Applications include guiding a shopper to a desired item or a patron through a museum, although retail is seen as the most profitable opportunity for SSL manufacturers.
At LFI, Acuity said its ByteLight Services for indoor positioning are available for commercial deployment. In a strange branding decision, Acuity decided to focus on the ByteLight name recognition even though Acuity only acquired ByteLight a few weeks back. ByteLight was a startup company that was the first mover in SSL-based positioning. But Acuity had previously demonstrated its in-house location services technology based on a development with mobile-communications-leader Qualcomm.
Acuity will still rely on Qualcomm's Lumicast Visible Light Communications (VLC) technology in its positioning platform. The ByteLight acquisition adds functionality through the use of RF Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communications with a smartphone. The wireless RF technology could contact a smartphone even were it stored in a shopper's bag, whereas the VLC technology would require that the shopper have the smartphone out and available for line-of-sight communications.
The positioning technology is being integrated by Acuity in its eldoLED driver family and will therefore be available across the company's SSL products that utilize those LED drivers. "Bytelight Services leverage our investment in eldoLED driver VLC technology which, as part of a complete indoor positioning solution, help deliver a mobile device’s indoor location within 4 in. horizontally, as well as providing the height and degree-level orientation," said Steve Lydecker, senior vice president of applied integrated solutions at Acuity. "With fixture-embedded Bluetooth Low Energy technology, from our recent acquisition of the intellectual property assets of Bytelight, Inc., users with the retailer’s app can opt-in to receive signals from beacons to accept digital content during a personalized shopping experience. And unlike with other beacon solutions, retailers can deploy without concerns related to battery life."
GE Lighting, meanwhile, announced its plans to collaborate with Qualcomm for the first time. Last year at LFI, GE had teamed with ByteLight and retailer Walmart in a positioning demonstration. Fast-forward and GE needed a new dance partner.
"Working with Qualcomm Atheros, GE is harnessing the power of our commercial LED lighting to give retailers the opportunity to create an enhanced experience for shoppers securely, while respecting their privacy," said Jeff Bisberg, global general manager for indoor location, GE Lighting. For now it's not clear whether GE will use VLC alone for positioning or if the company will add BLE. Indeed, the BLE technology may have been the key factor in Acuity’s ByteLight acquisition.
However the technology proposition unfolds, it's clear that retailers are asking for the technology, and maybe consumers will be ready to adopt as well. "Today’s consumers want a customized experience—from the news they read, to the games they play, to the products they buy, they expect technology-driven personalization,” said Bisberg.
"Enabling retailers to provide shoppers contextual services, with pinpoint accuracy, will introduce a new level of personalization and customer service," said Cormac Conroy, vice president of product management at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. "We look forward to supporting GE Lighting to commercialize this technology and to make possible a new level of indoor location and context experience."
In the race to deploy location services, Acuity has apparently moved into the lead. GE as well as Philips Lighting had demonstrated the technology before Acuity. But Acuity's LFI announcement gives every indication that a retailer could deploy immediately, although there is a tremendous amount of IT development that would be behind such a project as our partners at Lux Magazine pointed out in a recent article on Target's plans.
Qualcomm, meanwhile, is an enthusiastic partner with both GE and Acuity. "Qualcomm Atheros’ mission to deliver ubiquitous location in all environments aligns with the services platform developed by Acuity Brands,” said Qualcomm's Conroy. "Acuity has clearly demonstrated its leadership and commitment to LED-based indoor positioning solutions, and we are pleased Acuity has incorporated the Lumicast technology in its solution."