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Seeing the light: Location-based tech puts you on the spot

Posted by Michael Warshaw  March 21, 2013 01:12 PM

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By Marc E. Check, director of information and interactive technology, Museum of Science, Boston

It’s not often that a technology comes along with so much potential that I spend hours every day thinking about all of its implications and potential uses. But in the last couple of months, I’ve had my hands on just such a technology – one that has potential to radically alter the way we connect, gather information, and even play videogames while indoors.

I’ve been in the museum technology field for close to fifteen years now, a a period in which innovations have reshaped both the way we operate as a business and the way we offer programs and exhibit experiences to the public. The elusive technology of the last several years has been location awareness - which if made affordable, reliable, and accurate, can completely change the way museum visitors interact with our content and exhibits, navigate the building, and ultimately provide unprecedented insight into traffic patterns and visitor behaviors, thanks to mobile device analytics.

In video games, they call this location-based gaming. The idea is to apply the same type of accurate, GPS-based location awareness technologies now being used in the great outdoors, to craft experiences indoors. The closest-watched technology has been indoor Wi-Fi triangulation, which has not matured in the way we had once hoped. Wi-Fi continues to remain elusive as a location awareness technology because it has limited accuracy (the best implementations still offer mere ten-meter accuracy when everything is working well), a significant infrastructural cost, and is high-maintenance; it requires significant attention to ensure all wireless points are calibrated and positioned correctly.

Given the rather bleak landscape for indoor location awareness, imagine my excitement a year ago when we were approached by ByteLight, whose technology offered a potential model for affordable, flexible, sustainable, and accurate indoor location awareness technology.

The general idea of the technology is easy to grasp: LED light bulbs allow for the transmission of light to be pulsed on and off faster than the human eye can see. By controlling the pulsing of light through an LED, we can send digital signals through the light beam itself, right to mobile devices, which receive the signals through front and back-facing cameras.

This technology offers reduced implementation costs, since most institutions now have (or are moving towards) LED-bulb infrastructures; reduced development costs, as the ByteLight content management system allows us to develop content and other applications using non-proprietary Web-based development languages and standards; accuracy far greater than pre-existing technologies; and sustainability (as well as flexibility), as the cost I slow and bulbs can simply be moved to reconfigure environments.

The Museum of Science embarked on a partnership a few months ago to test these technologies in our Cahners ComputerPlace exhibit. That gave us a content-rich area to deliver varied virtual content on mobile devices in a fairly dense area of the museum. Because light-based digital transmission is such a great science story in and of itself, we have been taking this opportunity to talk to the public about the technology while assessing the potential uses for providing content based on location, visitor way-finding applications, and back-end analytics to understand visitor paths and dwell times within the exhibit.

Our staff loves the technology so far. I think visitors feel the same. And that’s just so far – wait and see what more we can do!

Museum visitors wishing to experience ByteLight-illuminated tours must request one of a limited number of iPads from Cahners ComputerPlace staff. Tours and Museum staff is available Saturday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:45 p.m. ET or on Fridays from 10 a.m. – 7:30p.m. ET. Entry is included with regular Exhibit Halls admission: $22 for adults, $20 for seniors (60+), and $19 for children (3-11). For more information, the public can call 617/723-2500, (TTY) 617/589-0417, or visit

The State of Play blog, organized by MassDiGI, features posts by digital and video game industry insiders writing about creativity, innovation, research, and development in the Massachusetts digital entertainment and apps sectors. MassDiGI, based at Becker College, is a statewide center for academic cooperation, entrepreneurship, and economic development across the local games ecosystem. Follow along @Mass_DiGI.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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MassDiGI 8-24 287w872.jpgThe State of Play, organized by MassDiGI, features stories by digital and video game developers and business insiders. Follow along @mass_digi.


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