Wondering where your local supermarket keeps its whole wheat flour? Soon, an app on your smartphone may be able to guide you to it – with a little help from the store's overhead LED lights, and technology developed by Philips.

The system incorporates LED bulbs that are installed in the existing overhead fixtures. Depending on the specific fixture in which it's placed, each of those bulbs will flicker at a different distinct rate. Although that flickering is too rapid to be detected by the human eye, it can be detected by the camera of a phone running the app.

When a shopper wants to find a product, the app starts by ascertaining the person's location within the store, based on the flickering "signature" of the fixture immediately overhead. It then accesses a map of the store, and proceeds to guide the user from their current location to that of the item.

Because the app can tell where the shopper is at all times, it will also periodically present them with electronic coupons or other information that applies to products that they're near – a feature which could be useful, annoying, or perhaps both. Shoppers can additionally access recipes in the app, then get the ingredients using as efficient a route through the store as possible.

Philips is currently testing the system at several supermarkets. Similar technology has been explored by other groups, including a team from Pennsylvania State University and Hallym University in South Korea.

View gallery - 2 images