Beacons, Lettuce and Tomato

Smart place hardware is automating the world, giving it the appearance of intelligence… now what about the static objects and places that do not necessarily “do” anything? How can they be integrated into the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Utilizing the smart devices that we carry with us to draw information from otherwise “dumb” things is the obvious answer and beacon technology is the key to that solution. Small devices designed to be placed anywhere, where they begin broadcasting tiny signals to be picked up by smart devices and trigger a response on the device. Utilizing low-energy Bluetooth radios, known as Bluetooth 4.0 Smart or BLE, beacon devices are still finding their niche, but a few companies are exploring the potential of the technology.

[box type=”info”]Beacon Info

  1. BLE devices can run up to 2+ years with a single coin battery depending on the signal strength and how frequently they broadcast information.
  2. The signal from a beacon can be detected as close as 2 inches and as far as 230 feet (approx. 70 meters). Of course, this is highly dependent on the environment; the signal can be diffracted, interfered with or absorbed by water (including the human body).
  3. Devices in range pickup the Bluetooth signal (without previous pairing) and estimate their distance to the beacon by measuring the received signal strength. The closer you are to the beacon, the stronger the signal is. Depending on the implementation, devices could probe the signal every second (1 Hz) or 10 times a second (10 Hz).
  4.  Signals from more than one beacon can be received at the same time. If there are three or more beacons within range, the receiving device can calculate the distance to each beacon and use this data to estimate its relative location (the same way sailors used the stars to navigate).
  5. Since beacons broadcast only a tiny amount of information, the user will have to fetch relevant content from a local database or cloud-based storage.

* information via estimote.com [/box]

Estimote (estimote.com) is building a sensor-based analytics and engagement platform by developing both beacon devices and a system for utilizing their data — “one that will change how people run businesses in the physical world and how consumers interact with real world products and venues.” The company is building their concept in real-world retail stores where signals from Estimote beacons can be picked up by consumers’ smartphones and triggering different actions, such as welcoming consumers to the store, displaying coupons or helping to navigate the store layout very precisely. Their vision is that beacon technology such as theirs will allow physical locations to interact with people through convenient channels such as smartphones, in-store screens and other future display devices.

Apple has developed their own beacon-based system, called iBeacon and has built the software into all of their mobile devices since the release of iOS7 in September 2013. Various vendors (including Estimote) are making hardware that is iBeacon-compatible in a variety of form factors. Putting iBeacon into practice in their own retail locations, Apple’s stores are a great example of in-store usage. Mobile devices with the Apple retail application installed (with the proper permissions) are provided with a screen take-over that prompts quick functions such as EasyPay, help, support, a gift guide and more.

 More innovators are working with beacon technology and many are finding new ways to utilize the abilities of the devices. Watch the “Smart Place” category here on the Architechnologist for upcoming features on some of these companies.

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