Friday, 2 January 2015

Will Fujitsu's New Smart Lighting System Replace the QR Code?

Fujitsu spotlights to project invisible data onto an object. 

New smart technology which means we will be able to point our phones at a particular item in a shop or museum and its details will immediately be displayed on our screens. 
Major Japanese technological corporation, Fujitsu, has offered to do this by creating a spotlight which encodes data in light, which can then be picked up by pointing a smartphone camera at an object that the light is shining on. ( See diagram from Fujitsu below).


This innovative lamp is the latest application of visible light communication (VLC), which can be used to provide internet connections through light, or to create highly accurate indoor positioning systems.This data is invisible to the human eye but can be picked up by an app on a smartphone which could provide an alternative to QR codes. These codes are currently used to allow smartphone users to grasp information or find websites quickly by pointing their phone at a display. 
Unlike QR codes which have to be displayed on a screen, poster or label, Fujitsu's system only needs a light and something to shine it on which will not detract any attention from the product itself.  

A Fujitsu spokesperson has suggested that, 'For aesthetic and practical reasons, it is obvious why using this newly developed technology from Fujitsu would be preferable to that.' Fujitsu has proposed that shops, museums, performances and tourist sites could all make use of this new technology. It could also be applied to provide 'point and pay' services in shops or feed into audio-visual guides in museums. 

However it seems that there is a downside of this technology. It would appear that every object would need its own individual spotlight in order to provide its own data. This makes it hard to imagine how the technology would work in a supermarket or other similar settings, unless one spotlight will be able to hold data for more than one object. 

Fujitsu's application of VLC would compete with solutions from Philips and EldoLED, in which luminaires are used to calculate the position of a smartphone within a few centimetres, similar to a  more precise version of GPS. This could be applied in retail environments, directing a user to particular offers or products in a store. 
 Fujitsu has indicated that the benefit of using one spotlight per object is a higher level of precision whereas an indoor positioning system could only communicate information relevant to an area in a shop rather than to an individual product.  

One potential issue that this technology presents is the way that different objects reflect, transmit and absorb light but Fujitsu has commented that accuracy on this front has been improved 'since this technology uses an image captured by a camera to measure the reflectivity and compensates accordingly.' A spokesperson also added that, ' You can point a smartphone's camera in the direction of the object that has the light shining on it. Different surface have different levels of reflectivity but this technology is still able to read that data from the light reflecting off an object. The camera does not have to be focused on the light itself.' 
The real question is, do we really need this technology just to replace traditional product displays and QR codes? A few years ago we may have asked do we really need GPS to replace maps and road signs, now maps are virtually obsolete. 
Fujitsu is currently testing this data projecting LED system in various applications and working to improve accuracy. It aims to have the product on the market by April 2016.