the low energy Bluetooth-based beacon concept, which allows Bluetooth devices to broadcast or receive tiny and static pieces of data within short distances. In simplistic words, it consists of two parts: a broadcaster (beacon device) and a receiver (smartphone app). The broadcaster is always advertising “I am here, and my ID is…”, while the receiver detects these Bluetooth radio packets and does whatever it needs to do based on how close or far it is from them.
Think of beacons as "buttons or links to the physical world around you". In the same way that web pages rely on buttons as a primary way of user interaction, beacons are used by apps to trigger events and call actions, allowing users to interact with digital or physical things, such as door locks, discounts, automation systems or simple notifications.
From a technical point of view, you can think of iBeacons as small digital lighthouses, just like those used to indicate where a port of shoreline is. Normally, the observer/receiver is an iOS app, while the broadcaster/transmitter can be a battery-powered sensor, an USB Bluetooth dongle, an Arduino kit, a Mac computer or an iOS device. The broadcaster side only sends data. The standard beacon advertisement consists of an UUID, a major and a minor value only. For example:
The broadcaster (iBeacon) doesn't do anything else besides sending this piece of information every fraction of a second or so. The UUID is an unique identifier. For example, if Starbucks decides to deploy beacon sensors inside its store and make an app that can tell the user once they arrive at a specific store, they would define a UUID that is unique to their app and the beacons inside their stores. Inside the stores, they would place beacon devices and configure each of them to use a different “minor” value. For example, at the store A, they would place all beacon devices broadcasting the Starbucks UUID, major value 1, minor 1 near the door, minor 2 near the mugs display and minor value 3 near the cashier. At store B, they would use the same UUID, but major 2 and minor values according to the location inside the store.
With the information broadcasted by each beacon, the app can detect them and tell how close (or far) the phone is from each of them and then perform actions, display alerts to the user, offer discounts, turn lights on and off, open doors and so on.
Beacon technology empowers contextualisation based on proximity or location by connecting the physical and digital worlds. With that in mind, see the examples below.
With players like Facebook and WhatsApp offering proximity-based campaigns through their iOS and Android platforms, businesses now have the option of combining social campaigns that physically drive clients to your door using proprietary apps that enable a deeper engagement and shopping experience that can trigger physical events, such as a blinking window display as the customer walks by.
Restaurants have shown us how useful mobile technologies are. Enabled with touch devices, waiters don’t have to rush to the kitchen in order to dispatch orders. In other cases, clients can make orders directly on tablets available at the table. Before iBeacon or NFC technology were around, such apps required the waiter to select a table number every time he/she takes an order. With iBeacons, the app automatically knows which table the waiter is at. It can display the client name (eventually with the client's dinning history/preferences) and automatically associate orders with tables without requiring waiters to manually select a table number. Business owners can digest analytics data showing which tables (serving which clients) employees stayed more time/compared to client’s satisfaction, and it is even possible to understand and analyze employees' most common paths, least visited/shadow areas and improve efficiency. The same concept can be adapted to a myriad of business kinds: from logistics to hotels and hospitals.
Classroom & Education
The iBeacon platform offers a wide range or applications that can be applied on an educational context.
Imagine a Zoo mobile app, which visitors open once they get into the park. When they are close to selected attractions, the app fires a notification/image/video with information of what is being looked at. It can tell visitors: “Feed the monkey some peanuts and watch your arm disappear in a second”.
You've probably seen sushi joints that use conveyor belts to move sushi in front of you. Now, imagine if each of those plates have a small sensor sticked under them. With the restaurant's app opened, hungry customers can see detailed information about what's in front of them, including price, nutrition information, ingredients, origin of the fish and much more. By clicking a 'I got it' button, patrons can also keep track of their current bill without worrying about dish color codes normally used in conveyor belts joints.
All kinds of automation, be it home, commercial or industrial, are directly related to what beacons can offer. From your garage door that opens once your car stops by (without pressing any button) to lights that go on and off as you need them to be. Automated Home http://www.automatedhome.co.uk is a great source of home automation-related news and information since 1996.
NFC technology does not offer the range of possibilities that Bluetooth does and iBeacons can be used to do something very similar to what NFC does. When adjusted to be ranged within very short distances, iBeacons can be deployed to allow communication between stationary beacons and loyalty program apps. In a more advanced scenario, both the app and the stationary sensor can perform passive (listener) and active (broadcaster) actions, allowing short-range, two-way communication between the app and the iBeacon sensor.
Many airports have already implemented traveller location services that guide and facilitate users locomotion through areas that they’re not familiar with. Normally used in conjunction with airport-specific apps, these services improve user experience, drive sales and help the management understand traveller’s behaviour in order to optimize signage systems and the space as a whole.
Bluetooth Low Energy? Bluetooth Smart? BLE?
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a new Bluetooth “flavor” offered within the Bluetooth 4.0 standard. For a device (be it an iPhone or desktop computer) to be able to enjoy this new Bluetooth flavor, it needs to be equipped with a more recent Bluetooth chip that is compatible with the 4.0 version of the Bluetooth standard. Originally, Bluetooth Low Energy was invented by Nokia back in 2006 under the name of “Wibree”. Before Wibree got popular and became available to the masses, Nokia decided to transfer its low power technology to BSIG (Bluetooth Special Interest Group), which controls and standardizes the Bluetooth technology. After being incorporated by the BSIG, the technology was renamed to “Bluetooth Smart”, which is the commercial name of the “flavor” and it is the same as Bluetooth Low Energy, which is the technical name. Bluetooth Smart (or BLE) is only compatible and available on devices that are compatible with the 4.0 version of the Bluetooth Standard. As the name says, Bluetooth Low Energy is a Bluetooth mode that uses low energy, which is normally used to connect to low data rate devices, such as cardio monitors, temperature monitors, smart watches and so on, but it doesn’t mean that every time you connect to a device via Bluetooth you’re necessarily using BLE. A wireless Bluetooth speaker for example will not use Bluetooth Smart/Low Energy to receive data stream from your computer or smartphone. Also, every time you connect to a BLE device, such as a wearable sensor, it doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily using BLE. The major difference between the common Bluetooth protocol and BLE is that minimum energy is required for two devices to broadcast or detect BLE packets. Because low energy is the focus, the kind of data/information sent by these devices is also minimum, slim and very slow. That being said, a BLE device is not supposed to transfer audio, video or support any kind of application that requires high bandwidth or large amounts of data.