The Illuminating Possibilities of ByteLight’s New LED Technology

ByteLight’s LEDs transmit unique IDs that can be used to access web-based or pre-stored content.

ByteLight’s LEDs transmit unique IDs that can be used to access web-based or pre-stored content.

A new kind of lightbulb just went on above my head – literally. In this case, it’s a ByteLight LED that not only sheds light, but emits an ethereal form of barcode that can be read and interpreted by your smartphone camera. These regular screw-in lights can be set up in arrays to provide all sorts of different functionality – perhaps some things that have not yet been imagined even by their creators.

ByteLight, a TechBridge portfolio company, just launched this new product and has already set up its first live technology demonstration at the Boston Museum of Science. Now they’re giving the rest of us a crack at it: if you head to the ByteLight website within the next two weeks, you can actually buy your own! To celebrate, the company will be kicking off a hackathon at their Boston offices at 5:30 PM on February 26th, inviting tinkerers and thinkers to find new, clever ways to leverage ByteLight’s LED technology in the everyday world.

Here’s how it works. Each LED has its own embedded ID code that is transmitted using visible light. With the appropriate app, your phone or tablet can translate that ID and use it to access web-based or pre-stored data. To create an app that leverages this, all you need to do is take the ID and match it to a function. Here are a few ideas to get started:

Indoor Mapping: The core functionality that ByteLight will be launching with is precise indoor positioning: a big flashing “you are here” dot that can provide resolution on a scale that GPS can’t. Coupled with a robust mapping app, you’ll never get lost in that mega-mall again.

Place-Based Routines: Set up the LEDs at home and build an app for your own apartment. Based on the time of day and where you are, each LED could trigger a different website: weather if you’re in the entryway in the morning getting ready to head out to work, recipes for when you’re in the kitchen in the evening, news in the living room, etc. BostInno’s Walter Frick has already posted some ideas about how to hack your house using this technology.

In-Store Coupons: Mapping’s just the tip of the iceberg: once you give an app the ability to know your exact location, you also open the door to location-specific content delivery. Instead of hearing “sale in aisle 5”, imagine receiving coupons tailored to the exact aisle you’re currently in. Combining this with information pulled from a loyalty card or customer profile allows stores to give you personalized deals on the items you’re actually interested in. Supermarkets are already experimenting with this, but require specialized readers to pull it off; ByteLight LEDs could make this far more ubiquitous.

Conference/Info-Fairs: Imagine a trade show where every booth has a ByteLight-compatible LED overhead. Forget loading up on bulky flyers and catalogs you’ll never get around to reading: flash your phone at the light and get all the information you need delivered digital and direct.

ByteLight LEDs could transform trade show booths.

ByteLight LEDs could transform trade show booths.

Check-In Within a Check-In: Foursquare enthusiasts have been laying claim to their favorite neighborhood haunts for years, but with ByteLight, it’s possible to get even more granular. With an array of Bytelights in a restaurant you can be the “Earl of the Leftmost Barstool,” or the “Duke of Booth 7” at your local U-Burger.

Hidden Digital Relics: One intriguing thing about ByteLight’s technology is that it’s essentially ‘invisible’ ByteLight LEDs look like just another light source. For viral marketing, the possibilities are almost endless: imagine secret websites with clues or information that you can only find by going to a certain location and finding the ByteLight LED.  Savvy DIYers can piggyback on this, too, creating a whole new kind of geocaching!

Attendance Tracking: With ByteLight LEDs, teachers and employers can make sure that you show up, that you are in the room, and that you stuck around for the duration of that important lecture or meeting. Of course, this means everybody has their phones out and on the table, but you’d probably want that anyway. Maybe the app could even auto-silence all the ringtones…

Replacing QR Codes: Still not sure what you want to do? Just remember that ByteLight LEDs can be used anywhere you would have previously used a QR code. Personally, I really can’t wait to forget about those ugly 2D barcodes. Instead, I’m hoping that we can all just see the light.

But all of this is just scratching the surface of what’s possible with these new tools. Fraunhofer CSE will be deploying several ByteLight LEDs at our new Building Technology Showcase later this year, though you’ll have to wait and find out what we’re doing with ours. Fraunhofer is also working on higher speed versions of visible light communications, and we’re definitely open to brainstorming on how to use those, too!

See you at the Hackathon!

About author
I'm the former manager of Fraunhofer CSE's TechBridge program, dedicated to supporting the commercialization of promising new cleantech innovations. All opinions expressed are my own, and don't represent an official endorsement from Fraunhofer CSE or the Fraunhofer Society.
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