ByteLight Flips Switch, Raises Cash for Indoor Positioning Using LEDs

File this one under “game-changing, if it works.” And if it gets widely adopted.

ByteLight, a stealthy startup in Cambridge, MA, has raised $1.25 million in seed funding led by VantagePoint Capital Partners to pursue its vision of an indoor positioning system based on LEDs (light-emitting diodes).

Here’s the basic premise. Your GPS-enabled phone knows where you are when you’re on the street or in your car, but it gets lost once you go indoors. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth positioning systems usually don’t have enough accuracy to tell which floor you’re on, or what part of the room you’re in. Google, Apple, and many others are working on indoor mapping technologies for retail and advertising applications. But the technical problem of indoor positioning—to high enough resolution—is so hard that no one has fully solved it yet.

That’s where ByteLight comes in. This company is so stealthy, I can’t even tell you where we met most recently (though my phone might know). It was a public place, people were milling around, and ByteLight founders Aaron Ganick and Dan Ryan gave me a demo. We were in a room with 25 specially outfitted LEDs—“ByteLights”—in the ceiling. When Ganick took out his phone or tablet and walked around, he (or rather, his device) showed up on another screen as a blip moving around a map of the room.

The company’s patented technology works by turning LEDs into positioning beacons; the light sources have a chip in them that transmits special signals that are picked up by the camera in any smartphone or tablet. If the device has ByteLight’s app on it, it can calculate its position in the room to a resolution of under a meter, all in less than a second, says Ganick, the startup’s CEO.

As more and more light bulbs get replaced by smarter and more efficient LED systems, you can imagine a big market emerging for precise indoor positioning. Retailers could push highly targeted advertising and deals to shoppers in specific parts of a store, and analyze where people are spending time (see image). Museums and tours could provide automated multimedia content. Big companies and warehouses could optimize foot traffic for employees. Cruise ships, hotels, and malls could keep tabs on where guests and customers are.

As for consumer privacy, you can always stick your phone in your pocket, even if you’ve opted in to ByteLight. The positioning … Next Page »

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