There are many ways that data is transferred these days, be it fiber optic cables, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G-LTE, and a whole slew of other brand names and acronyms the meanings of which I don’t care to learn.

Now Panasonic has come up with a way to send and receive data that’s easy for everyone to understand: light. Actually it uses light emitting diodes (LED) to be exact, but that’s about as technical as this explanation needs to get, I promise.

The news comes via DigInfo TV who interviewed a rep from Panasonic. Basically, the light of an LED can flicker on and off in a pattern that can be detected by a sensor such as your smartphone’s camera. It works kind of like Morse code but with light…and that’s it really.

You might be wondering why no one else has thought of this before given how simple it is. Actually lots of people have, but this technique had a lot of limitations for everyday use. The tricky part is in the timing of the flicker.

If you flick the light on and off incredibly fast, you can send lots of data quickly and the human eye would never notice it. However, a smartphone camera wouldn’t be able to notice it either and you’d have to get a separate specialized device which would be a drag.

The other way, you could slow down the flicker so that a smartphone could catch the code. But then your brain would be able to as well, and might lead to eye-irritating signs that would make city streets look like a scene from Captain Power.

▼ For the younger folk who might not know Captain Power. For those who do, get your guns ready!

What Panasonic did was find that sweet spot that is undetectable by the human eye but also just enough of a contrast for a smartphone to catch. One of their tricks was simply adjusting the brightness levels rather than turning the light completely on or off.

▼ Although the ad simply says “Adeline Dubois,” those interested can get more info delivered from the sign’s light to their smartphone.

Although very simple in design, the range of applications for this method is very wide. Of course, any LED illuminated signboard could be used to send product information instantly to your phone. For example, simply pointing your smartphone at a movie poster could start up a full trailer of it to help you decide if you want to watch it. This could also considerably free up space in advertising design needed to provide information.

Also for travelers in foreign lands, pointing your phone at an illuminated sign written in, say, Japanese could instantly transmit a translated version of it in your own language. The sign itself doesn’t even have to provide the light. For example, the ambient LED light of a restaurant could contain the data for versions of their menus in different languages or the nutritional information for each dish.

▼ The light illuminating the ring on display also transmits the name and maker of it to the smartphone.

If this system gets picked up by other companies and government then we could be looking a future that’s not exactly bright but slightly dimmer and flickering.

Source: DigInfo TV (English/Japanese)
Video: YouTube – DigInfo TV, ASISHIN