LEDs and radio waves could help locate items in shops

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A hybrid location identification system that uses radio-frequency transmitters and overhead LED lights could help shoppers locate items in a shop.

Researchers from Penn State and Hallym University in South Korea believe that large shopping centres could integrate overhead LED lights with an assigned location code in order to direct shoppers to a desired item.

The idea is that a shopper logs his or her item request on a computer or over a phone at the shop entrance and the location of the item is then revealed on a screen.

Mohsen Kavehrad, director of the Centre for Information and Communications Technology Research at Penn State University, said: ‘The same lights that brighten a room can also provide locational information.’

However, LED-transmitted locational information alone will not work because light does not transmit through walls.

Kavehrad, working with Zhou Zhou, a graduate student in electrical engineering at Penn State University, used a ZigBee wireless transfer network to combat this problem.

ZigBee is designed for small, low-power, digital radio-frequency applications that require the short-range wireless transfer of data at relatively low rates.

The request for an item goes from the computer and is transmitted through several short radio-frequency receivers and transmitters placed throughout a shopping centre. When the network locates the correct item’s LED location code, a signal is sent back to the computer via the wireless network, showing where that item can be found.

Even when merchandise is moved from room to room, the accurate location remains available because a different LED overhead light with a different location code signals the tag.

This hybrid model could be useful in other situations. A hybrid system in a high-rise office building, for example, could not only tell the system someone was in the building but could also identify the floor on which the person was at that time.