IST Launches first Visual Light Communication (VLC) LED Drivers for Indoor Positioning

 July 2017 witnessed the launch of the one of the world’s most advanced LED drivers: the iDrive® Force 12 Hybrid+, which incorporates Visual Light Communication (VLC) capabilities to enable luminaire manufacturers and system integrators to create their own high precision, indoor location- based marketing solutions.

The new Hybrid+ LED output stage has taken four production iterations and nearly a decade to perfect, in order to provide unprecedented levels of smooth, flicker-free dimming and seamless integration of optical VLC beacon technology.

The iDrive® Force 12 Hybrid+ builds on IST’s worldwide patent portfolio and extensive know-how to deliver the first open platform and cost-effective indoor positioning VLC drivers to enable the lighting industry to capture a large section of the burgeoning positioning market.

More people than ever before are walking around with location service-enabled devices in their pockets, due to the global proliferation of smartphones, which is predicted to hit over 2.5 billion users worldwide in 2019. This opens the door for location-targeted mobile adverts, which eMarketeer estimates will generate revenues of over $15bn by 2018.

VLC-based LED luminaires can be deployed for many different applications and significantly increase the value proposition of lighting within buildings. However, indoor location VLC-based marketing solutions are proving increasingly attractive in the retail sector, due to the positional accuracy achieved by VLC compared to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon technology (please see Fig.1 below).

Figure 1: Comparison of accuracy and range of positioning technologies

Using VLC (also known as broadcast Li-Fi) technology combined with Wi-Fi and mobile sensor based positioning mitigates the need for capital expenditure and installation costs of BLE beacon based positioning systems, whilst increasing positional resolution to less than 0.5m.

Several leading lighting companies have already launched proprietary VLC-based positioning systems. However, the technology has proved to be extremely expensive and not readily available in the wider market, thus limiting competition and choice for end-users.

As a leading provider of iDrive® LED driver technology, IST decided to focus its technical resources and know-how to create an open platform VLC solution that enables literally anyone to create their own lighting-enabled location and positioning solutions, without the need to invest millions of dollars developing their own LED driver platform.

The iDrive® Force 12 Hybrid+ will enable the creation of feature-rich retail positioning systems to achieve:

  • Personal guidance and routing
  • Geofencing and analytics to determine hot spots
  • Hyper local marketing of offers to consumers
  • Anonymized location tracking

Utilizing the camera and other sensors within standard mobile devices, including tablets or phones, the position of the device can be decoded from the signal sent by the luminaire.

The market specification requirements are very challenging for VLC-based LED drivers, including:

  • Deep dimming capability to below 0.01%
  • Very high efficiency output stages (>97%)
  • No electrolytic capacitors to improve lifetime and remove ESR failure
  • The ability to turn VLC signals on and off without any visible flicker
  • VLC must operate even when luminaires are dimmed to low levels (<5%)
  • Ability to work with any LED luminaire with a Vf from 1 to 48V and If from 100mA to 1600mA
  • Utilise license-free, open source control protocols to communicate data
  • Must be easy to integrate VLC drivers into traditional or PoE and PaE solutions
  • Must not add significant costs to Ethernet-based lighting solutions

Despite these challenges, the IST team used its design experience to overcome the hurdles and develop the iDrive® Force 12 Hybrid+ solution.

In partnership with Artistic License Holdings Ltd, IST worked jointly to create an open VLC protocol which has been incorporated in the ALH Art-Net control protocol https://www.artisticlicence.com/WebSiteMaster/User%20Guides/art-net.pdf and allows a simple way to send VLC data to any luminaire.

IST is building a VLC ecosystem with partners to enable end-users to acquire turn-key solutions for a range of applications. One such partner is Canadian company Dent Electric, which is enhancing their current IoT solutions to include VLC positioning to allow end-users to gain real-time opinion and feedback through data analytics across various IT platforms, with initial focus on retail and sports venue analytics..

Other possible VLC applications include:

  • Automotive – vehicle to vehicle communications
  • Near-field communications
  • Security – 2nd user authentication
  • Paging systems
  • Sea-based solutions, e.g. underwater and communications between ships
  • Digital signage

For more information on VLC positioning or to order your iDrive® Force 12 Hybrid+ then please contact the sales team on +44(0)121 362 1810 or email sales@istl.com to find your nearest distributor.

 

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