What Is A Beacon?

In my previous posts, I talked extensively on geofencing and location based marketing. Here. To start of with, let me give you avid technology followers a heads up about a technology that is going to take over IoT and indoor GIS by a storm in the coming years. Beacon (No, it’s not a cookie even though it sounds like one) is a technology that is going to be a major component of indoor GIS due to its close proximity connectivity capabilities.

What is a beacon?

So, let me give you an overview what is a beacon actually. A Beacon is a simple device, that uses BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology to broadcast data signals every second. In very simple words, it’s like it keeps telling everyone “Hi, I’m a beacon and I’m here.”

The data broadcasted by the beacon is captured by a receiver and further actions, triggers take place via an app. The receiver has to be in close range (40-50 meters) with the beacon to receive the broadcasted data packets. And then, the magic happens! This BLE technology was developed by Nokia under the name Wibree in 2006. It was later integrated with main Bluetooth standard in 2010. (Read More Here).

Apple’s Involvement with the technology.

Apple acting like a responsible technology powerhouse it is, launched iBeacon protocol at WWDC 2013 within iOS 7. It uses the same BLE technology but, here’s the catch, an iDevice enabled with iBeacon can act as both the broadcaster and the receiver. Though Apple did not go ahead with manufacturing their own standalone beacon (Broadcaster), but it definitely shed light to the technology anyways.

Google’s Involvement with the technology.

iBeacon only supports iOS and devices as a part of the closed apple environment which does not come as a surprise. So, the question is what do we have as its open source alternative? Here comes Google as the savior. Google launched its BLE profile in 2015, Eddystone. And with that, they also launched the Google Beacon Platform to work with Eddystone. It is similar to iBeacon but like any open source platform it runs without any restrictions and watchdogs.

Possible Applications

Let’s have a look at the possible applications where various sectors can make use of this technology.

Retail

This is the most obvious and common implementation of the beacon technology as it posses extravagant capabalities for targeted marketing.Read more here. With the boom of e-commerce and online shopping, retail stores took a bad blow by the year 2015. But with the introduction of  beacons, there’s still hope.

Beacons can be helpful to overall enhance the customer experience while shopping or at a coffee shop. Imagine the sales staff addressing you by your name and recommending your products even before you tell them. Because the have a beacon installed at the store and you happen to have an app of the store, it connects to the beacon and exchanges data as soon as you enter the shop.

Retailers like American Eagle, Target, Macy’s are already making use of proximity marketing to nail the competition.  This trend will only spread more.

Airports, Railway Stations, Bus Stops

Public transportations is a sector where this technology can prove to be the most beneficial in my opinion (comment yours too). Our very own CSIA Mumbai Airport has already enabled the technology using iBeacon. Passengers can get instant flight information as soon as they enter the terminal. So, the next time you fly to mumbai or from it, don’t forget to try the beacon.

Also, it can be very efficient at our railway stations, well for the obvious reasons, the frequent delays and chaos at the stations.

Likewise, bus stops can also use this tech to improve assistance to a naive passengers. I personally hate to ask people which bus to catch to travel to a particular stop.

Large Scale Events

Beacons can prove to be very handy as a tool to monitor the crowd at big events with large crowds. They can help both the organisers as well as the event goer just to catch information about for say a particular stall.

Imagine this at a music event like Tomorrowland and Sunburn where a number of artists play at once. You know where your favourite DJ is playing, just go there and get the information of the artist, music, etc.

Smart Homes

Beacons have a lot of potential when it comes to implementation in smart homes because of the low cost, energy efficient and close proximity tendencies. You can literally spread beacons around the house and set triggers or actions when you reach its range.

To Conclude..

The technology is relatively new (introduced in 2013) but can not be ignored as we still don’t have a proper indoor GIS solution yet. These low energy devices pave way for numerous indoor GIS and navigation applications and can provide a solution. Right now, all we can do is wait and watch out for the devs to create magic.

Image Courtesy:

Featured Image: Estimote Beacons

Apple, Inc

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