ByteLight Flips Switch, Raises Cash for Indoor Positioning Using LEDs

10/16/12Follow @gthuang

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doesn’t work if the camera isn’t exposed to the LED light. “This is not a tracking technology,” says Ryan, the company’s CTO. “It’s an engagement technology.”

ByteLight’s approach depends heavily on partnerships with LED makers and, of course, widespread adoption of LEDs. But if the startup can catch that wave with the right timing, it should be golden when it comes to consumers, who are adopting smartphones and tablets at astonishing rates and seem interested in making use of location-based services, for the most part.

So ByteLight is not quite a mobile company, not quite an analytics company, and definitely not a lighting company. It is its own thing—which is probably good.

Still, we can triangulate a bit from some related Boston-area companies. Skyhook wrote the book on location-positioning technology for mobile phones. Locately (recently bought by Service Management Group) delivers location-based analytics for retail. Where (acquired by PayPal last year) works on location-based ads, discovery, and commerce. Digital Lumens is a smart lighting company providing LEDs, networking, and software for industrial facilities. So ByteLight doesn’t exist in a vacuum here.

It may be premature to discuss revenue models, but ByteLight is thinking along the lines of software-as-a-service; licensing fees for LED makers; transactions in retail; and selling location data and analytics. “We don’t want to build apps,” says Ryan. “We want to be the platform.” He adds, “Indoor positioning will be just as important as GPS,” in terms of the market for other apps and services to be built on top. As Ganick puts it, ByteLight has a “disruptive technology” and is “not just looking at one vertical.”

And therein lies the challenge, as I see it. The young startup will have to fight to stay focused on the right opportunities and resist the urge to do it all. It will also have to navigate a complex ecosystem of lighting vendors, retailers, and other businesses—not to mention competitors—that will want a piece of the pie.

But it’s refreshing that these guys, both Boston University alums, are thinking so big. As ByteLight’s founders put it, lighting systems are moving from analog to digital—LEDs are interacting with software and digital devices. And whenever that kind of transition happens, they say, new business opportunities abound. Now ByteLight has to get the word out about its technology and capabilities—and then defend its turf if and when business takes off.

It’s still very early days, but this is a big-idea company to watch. ByteLight, which officially started in May 2011, currently has 10 employees and is running trials of its system in various locations (such as museums and retail shops) around Boston and elsewhere.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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