Article
One of the biggest advantages of LED lighting, beyond its exceptional 
efficiency, is the fact that, as many electrical engineers have said, 
it’s infinitely controllable. It is, after all, based on solid-state 
technology similar to computer chips.

Communication Can Be at the Speed of Light with Visible Light Communication Technology

Chuck Ross
One of the biggest advantages of LED lighting, beyond its exceptional efficiency, is the fact that, as many electrical engineers have said, it’s infinitely controllable. It is, after all, based on solid-state technology similar to computer chips. Certainly, this is helpful for dimming, color-shifting and other lighting-effect applications. But developers are also now exploring how this controllability can be harnessed to create new communications networks. This emerging field is called visible light communications (VLC). It’s becoming an important component in new indoor positioning systems that are bringing GPS-style navigation help to large indoor spaces.

VLC utilizes high-frequency changes in light output produced by ambient lighting fixtures, such as ceiling troffers or high-bay luminaires. You might think we would perceive this modulation as irritating flicker, but it’s far too subtle for human eyes to perceive. But the imaging sensors built into our smartphones’ front-facing cameras can receive and decode these light signals. Developers are now creating a range of new applications based on this emerging technology.

Lighting is especially exciting as a communications tool because it’s literally everywhere we are. And the fixtures that create ambient light in commercial spaces – like ceiling troffers, downlights and high-bay luminaires – are ideally placed to reach a wide range of receiving devices across a store or office. This is why several companies see promise in bringing VLC capabilities to their lighting systems to create an indoor positioning system (IPS) to help customers and employees find their way around big box stores, hospitals, airports and other large facilities.

“Lighting systems offer the ideal physical and electrical platform to facilitate indoor location, largely due to the ubiquity of lighting products, which are often organized into rows or groups,” says Chris Bailey, vice president of Integrated Solutions for Hubbell Incorporated. “And the fact that lights are usually energized during operating hours provides an opportunity to incorporate additional indoor position assets, such as coded light injectors or Bluetooth radios.”

He goes on to explain just how the systems could help, say, a shopper find her location within a large retail establishment.

“The combination and use of VLC and other embedded sensor technologies can be leveraged to provide  users of IPS with an experience similar to global positioning systems used outdoors,” Bailey says. He explains that apps can understand the light modulations as data and instructions that can identify the luminaire sending the data. “Once the unique luminaire ID has been sensed, the app retrieves the precise coordinates of the luminaire, algorithmically determines the location of the user’s smartphone device and superimposes the user’s specific location onto a map.”
Photo courtesy of Hubbell Lighting
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