Reinventing the Lightbulb: A Conversation with ByteLight

I’ve spent some time over the past month talking with Cambridge MA based¬†ByteLight in advance of its launch and $1.25 million funding announcement this week. The company has a novel advancement in the indoor positioning space we’ve been covering.

As quick background, indoor positioning represents the next frontier in mapping. This plays out as the technology gets more granular — from the satellite level, to Apple’s flyover imagery, Google Street View and finally down to building interiors.

We’ve seen things move in this direction for years including Google’s interior imagery, rich media like Everyscape (another Boston-area company) and the ongoing efforts of indoor mapping companies like Aisle 411 and Micello.

ByteLight adds a new twist by putting interior lighting to work. This involves installed LED bulbs that emit a flicker pattern that’s picked up by camera-equipped mobile devices to fix a position or communicate data.

ByteLight provides the underlying lighting technology as well as a tool set on which to build navigational applications. The rest is handled by app developers and partners that can build various ways to deliver content to users that are under their roof.

For example, retailers can provide navigation apps to help users find the right in-store items, rather than walk away in frustration. There’s also a clear loyalty and promotions angle here that can be the basis for yield management or variable pricing.

Monitoring customer behavior can also lead to optimal store layouts or inventory management. Other applications include cavernous interiors that compel better navigation, says founder and CTO Daniel Ryan, such as trade shows or museums.

This is somewhat reminiscent of shopkick, whose in-store check-ins for participating retailers is accomplished through audible sonar that’s picked up by mobile devices. And like shopkick, it could be the basis for retailers to engage in-store customers.

More than the mapping and navigation angle mentioned above, this customer loyalty aspect is a needed resource for retailers that are challenged by online price competition and the transparency brought by smartphones (i.e. showrooming).

As we’ve argued, retailers need to combat these challengers by developing ways to engage shoppers with various promotions and features that keep them in-store. Some have begun to do this, such as Target’s recent partnership with shopkick.

ByteLight’s technology brings about an entirely new set of possibilities whose advantages lie in the communication method (positioning accuracy at the sub-meter level), and a pervasive installed base of underlying hardware at the store level.

The latter is both an opportunity and a challenge as it involves building relationships with retailers and lighting OEMs. But once those are in place, entrenched hardware relationships represent a barrier to competition.

And the possibilities go beyond consumer applications to include things like enterprise resource management and warehousing. As mentioned, the end applications will be in the hands of partners and developers, so it should go in lots of directions from there.

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