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LED lighting could guide shoppers to products in stores


January 27, 2012

A new system that incorporates LED lighting and radio frequency communications could be us...

A new system that incorporates LED lighting and radio frequency communications could be used to help consumers find products in large stores (Photo: Baycrest)

It baffles me that some people enjoy shopping. There's not much that I like about it, but I particularly dislike searching through the aisles, trying in vain to find the product that I'm looking for. While I'm not adverse to asking a store employee for assistance, it seems that in many big box retailers, employees are either non-existent or are already busy with other customers. A new system is in development, however, that would allow customers to find the locations of products via the store's overhead LED lighting.

The technology, being developed by a team of scientists from Pennsylvania State University and Hallym University in South Korea, incorporates radio frequency tags that would be applied to merchandise. When a customer entered the store, they would use a publicly-accessible computer or an app on their smartphone to request the location of an item. That request would be relayed wirelessly throughout the store, via a ZigBee low-power radio frequency system, to be picked up by the requested item's tag.

In order to determine where it was, a photodiode in the tag would measure the flicker rate of the overhead LED lights. This predetermined rate would be different in different areas of the store, and act as a digital signal to the photodiode. It would also be undetectable by the human eye. The tag would then report back with its location via the ZigBee system, so the customer could find the product.

Not only would the tags continue to provide accurate locational data even if the product were moved to a different area, but they could also be reused on other merchandise. Additionally, the Penn State/Hallym researchers point out that each individual item wouldn't need its own tag - one tagged item in each batch on the shelves would suffice.

The system could possibly also be used for indoor navigation, in places like office buildings or museums.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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