Philips has created a new intelligent lighting system that will let users and retailers pinpoint customers' exact location indoors.
The new technology will use lights, a phone camera, and dedicated software that can easily be built into any app, in order to track customers as they move around a shop, museum, or office building.
Philips hopes it will be able to use the intelligent lights to help people find things as if they were using standard GPS outside or to send people special offers as they walk past them. In other words, Philips hopes to use the technology to enhance the shopping experience.
Demoed to Pocket-lint at an innovation showcase organised by the company in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, we learned the intelligent lights can position users to within 1m (though demoes of the tech suggest it will be even more accurate than that).
The new technology works with special Philips lights that are connected to the internet and powered via an Ethernet cable rather than standard wiring.
That technology, says Philips, allows the lights to emit a special signal. The camera on a phone picks up the signal and lets the system running everything know exactly where the person is in relation to the light. Putting the phone in a pocket blocks the signal, for example.
"Technologies like Apple's iBeacon are merely proximity sensors," a spokesman for the company explained to Pocket-lint, as he walked around a makeshift shopping aisle complete with shopping trolley to show of the new technology at the event. "Here we are actively tracking the phone when it is in line of sight and can see the direction it is moving in."
Philips, which is doing a number of secret trials with various retailers around the globe already, is keeping quiet about who is planning on using the technology in their stores, but it did tell us that it should be in shops and available to consumers by the middle of 2015.
Users will have to use a dedicated app and agree to be tracked around the store Philips tells us, but it hopes that won't be a barrier to the technology being used by consumers.
"Data shows that one in three people respond to an offer if it is right in front of them compared to only one in 100 who have been sent a mailer through the door."
In our demo, Philips showed how people could use an app to find specific products in a store or get special offers as they walked by as long as they opted to use the app. If the technology sees widespread adoption, you might never again have to find a sales assistant for help.
As part of a pilot project for Philips, visitors to the Boerhaave Museum – the National Museum for Science and Medicine in Leiden, the Netherlands – have been given a tablet with a pre-installed app containing rich multimedia content about the exhibits. Acting as positioning beacons, the individual LED lighting fixtures transmit their location to the tablet's camera, which triggers the app to show additional information at specific locations.
Meanwhile, Philips has also said that the technology isn't just limited to retailers. The company also demoed how it envisions office lighting to work in the future.
Working in a similar way, Philips has created an office lighting system and already teamed up with a developer in Amsterdam to create an office building that is completely powered by intelligent lights and can be individually controlled by the employees who use it.
Called The Edge, the building has been fitted with over 6,000 lights. They are all connected to a central control centre and packed with sensors to monitor building usage.
Each light, which will be connected and powered by an Ethernet cable, will come with its own IP address and be completely accessible by a dedicated app. Users will also be able to group lights together to change the brightness in an entire office or floor with one simple swipe in an app. This is Internet of Things on overdrive.
Much like the retail offering, the localised IT department will be able to use the technology - beyond controlling when to turn on the lights or how bright they should be - to monitor how the whole building is using energy.
Each light will come with a number of sensors that will measure occupancy, temperature, and the building energy efficiency, says the company.
Philips also adds that the technology is future-proof too, with the ability to add more sensors as they become available, and they will all be connected back to a central hub (just like any Ethernet-enabled system).
The Edge is due to open for business in October, with Philips hoping the new lighting system catches on elsewhere in the city and the world.