Forget about QR codes (if you haven’t already). Fujitsu Laboratories, in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, has come up with a much brighter idea: Its researchers have developed a way to embed identification data in LED lighting that can be projected on any object. Like with a QR code, you’d point your smartphone camera to the object to get more information about it. But in the case of the Fujitsu system, it doesn’t require anything to be physically printed or attached to the object being queried, which can be distracting, costly, or otherwise mar something’s appearance.
The idea is that a department store, for instance, can illuminate a particular product with an LED lamp so that customers within a 2-meter range can point their smartphone cameras at the object and automatically get detailed product information without the store staff needing to be involved.
Like a kind of limited, one-way version of Li-Fi technology, the embedded ID data is transmitted by the light and received by the camera at a slow 10 bits per second and is invisible to the naked eye. Data transmission is achieved by modulating the intensity of the light emitted by the lamp’s red, green and blue (RGB) LED lights. In other words, the LEDs flash in patterns to encode sequences of zeroes and ones. Fujitsu is keeping mum on the details, beyond that.
A Fujitsu app installed on a smartphone preprocesses the reflected LED light to compensate for any light absorbed by the object. The software then extracts the ID data, which is used to call up a webpage with the appropriate information, just like with a QR code—except that in this case the code is invisible.
According to Akira Nakagawa, director of the Image Systems Lab at Fujitsu Laboratories, any kind of light source that enables red, green, and blue to be modulated can be used, and Fujitsu has achieved the same results using projector light.
Nakagawa is envisioning a number of scenarios where the technology could be applied. These include providing merchandise information and, in the future, possible electronic payment services; streaming text, audio, and video information on a museum, art gallery, or tourist site; and for music downloading simply by pointing the phone at a singer on stage lit by the appropriate LED light.
Fujitsu is working to improve the technology’s robustness in the face of interference from other light sources and is carrying out a variety of tests in different environments. Nakagawa says he expects the system to be commercialized by mid-2016.