Sunday, March 18, 2012

Supermarket Uses LEDs for Indoor GPS

indoor location

I’m not really 100% sure why, but for some reason or other everyone seems to be rather obsessed with indoor location technology, specifically for commercial use. I can’t say that I’m not interested in anything that avoids me having to walk up and down every aisle looking for black olives (which are always placed somewhere strange), but the indoor location technologies most places pitch just seem far fetched and less than helpful. Many of them involve Bluetooth as well, which is not only costly but requires Bluetooth to be on which sucks down my smartphone battery. There just isn’t really an elegant fix for indoor location technology right now.

Well, Philips, a company that focuses on innovation in various lifestyle areas, thinks it might have come up with a solution. Using advanced LED lights which transmit not only illumination but also codes that provide location information. Then, using the same basic ideas that spawned the GPS system, Philips has designed a navigation system that could help customers find their way around a supermarket or other indoor location.

The system doesn’t seem to have a name just yet, but has already been installed in the Carrefour Hypermarket in Lille, France. All consumers need to do in order to find their way around is to download a specific app to a smartphone with a front-facing camera. When users launch the app in store, the camera will pick up the code from the overhead lights in order to figure out where the user is located. Using an internal map, it can then direct you to the aisle with whatever item you’re searching. Pretty clever, right?

Of course, this system is still in the testing phase and is really more of a novelty than anything else. Of all of the solutions for indoor location, this system seems pretty plausable as it uses lighting which is already present everywhere, less finicky than Wifi and less expensive than Bluetooth.

Check out the video below explaining and demoing how the technology works:

Of course, the argument that I just have to point out is that since it uses lights to merely direct you to the aisle (and perhaps general shelf area) is it really all that different from the plastic signs at the end of each aisle? And what kind of privacy can users who use this app expect? Would downloading and using the location app in store mean that users will be bombarded with sales and advertising for that location? There are a lot of little details that I’m really curious about and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Regardless, I feel like this is probbaly the most promising step in indoor location technologies yet and seems to be the most feasible. It’s almost like a cross-breed between smart home technologies and more tradiitonal indoor GPS location innovations.

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