Casio develops technology to send data visually between devices

The Japanese firm uses small sets of flashing pixels that can be displayed or read in on standard smartphones.

Casio has developed a new way to send information between smartphones and other gadgets, encoding it visually in small sets of flashing pixels that appear on the screen of one device and are read by the camera of another.

The company, known for its G-Shock watches, digital cameras and rugged mobile phones, is set to reveal the technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. IDG News Service was given a sneak peak at Casio's headquarters in Tokyo.

The technology was simple to use on a demo app created for iOS devices. One user selects the data to be sent -- contact information, an image or a message -- and their device's screen is filled with a circle that repeatedly flashes a series of colors. The user receiving the information points their camera at the circle, and after a few seconds the colors are decoded and the data received.

When both parties have the software installed, it allows them to share information without the clunky process of exchanging email addresses or phone numbers, or setting up a Bluetooth connection. And a person receiving the data can point their camera at 10 to 15 devices at once, allowing them to acquire contact information from a whole group of people at the same time, for example.

The circles of color, or "beacons," can also be displayed on television screens, electronic billboards or elsewhere. The concept is similar to that of QR (Quick Response) codes, the boxy two-dimensional codes widely used on advertisements, coupons and websites. QR codes, however, typically must be large enough to fill the entire screen of the device doing the scanning, and can only be read one at a time.

When combined with GPS data, Casio's technology can also be used for augmented reality. In another demo, four beacons were displayed in a parking lot, and a massive cartoon schoolgirl appeared to be looming over the cars when viewed in a device fitted with the software.

"Because the markers don't need to be very large, they could be easily overlaid onto the video of television commercials, or as large blinking lights in the corner of billboards, where people could read them in with their phones," said Nobuo Iizuka, a manager at one of Casio's research centers.

Iizuka said the circular sending beacons need to be about a centimeter in diameter for each meter of distance to the camera reading them in.

The demonstration in Tokyo did have some issues reading the beacons under certain combinations of sunlight and shadow, but Casio feels the technology is ready for launch and is determining how to use it. It could be included in future Casio smartphones and digital cameras, or in an entirely new line of devices, Iizuka said.

The technology is based on the company's research into the developing field of "Li-Fi," or sending information using visible light. Using LED lights, data can be encoded into slight fluctuations in brightness that are invisible to the naked eye, but can be read by dedicated receivers.

With specialized equipment, this can achieve data transfers at hundreds of megabits per second, but Casio wants to use the technology for existing consumer devices. In many cases, the data encoded and sent by the flashing beacon will probably be a short look-up code or URL, which is then used to pull a larger data file from a server.

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Jay Alabaster

IDG News Service
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