Lost in a Store? The Lightbulbs Can Beam You an Escape Route

By Veronique Greenwood | February 13, 2012 4:32 am

LEDHElloo0OO0! I will show you the way.

Imagine yourself in a department store. You’re lost—alone and stranded somewhere in hosiery. What will you do?! How will you ever find your way to the shoe department? Take a deep breath. Look around you. Are those LED light bulbs on the ceiling? Take out your smart phone, raise the camera so it can see the bulb, and pray that you’re right.

Yes! The LEDs are sending location information to your phone, which, via a newly developed indoor navigation app called ByteLight, provides you with detailed instructions: “Go the the end of the aisle. Turn left. Walk until you can see the escalators. Go up one floor. You are in footwear.” Weeping with relief, you accept ByteLight’s offer to give you detailed step-by-step directions to a pair of shoes that is on sale (in addition to providing navigational information to particular items or areas, it also beams you information about nearby deals).

Phew! Thank goodness for extremely accurate indoor navigation apps. We’d all be hopelessly wandering in cosmetics until the end of time without the life-saving information that can be beamed to our phones from the lightbulbs—not to mention we’d miss the sale on wrapping paper on Level 6. Horrors.

In all seriousness, while we like the idea of augmented reality—we would most definitely be behind shopping for groceries via QR code while waiting for the train—some applications sound a wee bit tortured. ByteLight, which was covered recently by Technology Review, has some interesting ideas; using LEDs to provide within-a-meter locations inside a building might be very helpful if you’re trying to locate a flat-packed kitchen table in an IKEA warehouse (in fact, that sounds like a great idea. Maybe IKEA should be ByteLight’s first customer!). But most stores have employees, and signage, that make finding chili powder or sports bras a simple matter of having a brief human interaction or reading a sign. Making your phone get information from a lightbulb to steer you around a store sounds convoluted and unnecessary for most of the retail situations we find ourselves in.

A future where ByteLight is de rigeur for finding your way around a store sounds a bit like the one where your car is such a comfortable place that you never, ever have to leave or the one where you have to download an app to keep from being hit by a car because you never put down your phone. In other words, it’s a future straight out of the DiscoBlog dystopia tag, folks. If you wind up there, send us postcards.

Image courtesy of timo_W2s / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • Joanna Meldner

    Human Interaction is all well and good. But it seems the author has never frequented the same IKEA stores as me – The only yellow-tshirt-wearing-human-shaped-blurr on the whole of the warehouse floor always has a group of at least 10 people battling for it’s attention…
    I would much prefer the option of being digitally directed to the relevant isles, and gently reminded not to forget that Poang chair cushion from aisle A, because it is a very long trek back all the way from H….

  • Krulwich

    Indoor Location positioning is definitely here this year – there are a number of companies that are already bringing it to market in stores, malls, etc:http://www.grizzlyanalytics.com/report_2012_02_indoor_CTO.html It will be a lot more fun as the technology gets more accurate and pervasive – there’s loads of new research underway on this, including three major companies researching LED/light based approaches:http://www.grizzlyanalytics.com/report_2011_12_indoor.html

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