Battle of the Beacon Technology:
Google continues to work on the all-encompassing networking and has now introduced an equivalent to Apple’s iBeacon. The open beacon format Eddystone offers a range of tools and interfaces with which developers can control the communication and data exchange between different devices. The platform supports both Android and iOS devices and is a holistic beacon technology concept with extensions for UriBeacon / Physical Web, telemetry and sensor data and a central beacon registration for open beacon platforms.
Specifications were uploaded to the Github developer portal. Google relies on the Bluetooth Low Energy transmission standard and small radio transmitters – so-called beacons. With the help of the radio transmitter, it is possible to connect the offline with the online world. Traders can send product offers to the smartphone of customers and passers-by or use beacon technology for indoor navigation. So far, the installation of a corresponding app and the activation of Bluetooth was a prerequisite for using beacons.
Google Beacon Technology
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Google has released two interfaces as part of its beacon initiative: the Nearby API and Proximity Beacon API. Nearby is intended to help locate, connect and exchange various devices in the area. Google relies on a combination of Bluetooth, WiFi and audio signals that are inaudible to the human ear. The Proximity Beacon API can be used to control and manage the data exchanged between the device and the beacons. These are stored in the cloud. With the Places API, location-based actions can be controlled. Google is not only targeting the connection of smartphones but is also looking towards the smart home. Google works with various beacon manufacturers, including MOKOSmart, Estimote, Kontakt.io and Radius Networks. MOKOSmart sees Eddystone as “an important step for all providers of proximity applications and beacon solutions” and expects Google’s beacon initiative to boost the beacon market and thus also location-based services and apps.
How do Beacon devices work?
The Beacon technology is based on BLE – Bluetooth Low Energy. This enables a BLE-capable device to initiate a so-called broadcasting process. It always sends the same values
The range of the BLE signal is up to 50m and thus closes a gap between NFC (Near Field Communication), which sends data very precisely but only up to a few centimeters, and Wi-Fi, which can cover a much longer range, and thus again is too imprecise for a position determination.
In the meantime, Google has followed up and published its own protocol with Eddystone, which can contain even more information, such as a direct URL to enable the use of mobile web applications.
The basis of the beacons is the transmitter-receiver principle. For this purpose, transmitters (the beacons) are placed in the room that act as signaling devices. These beacons send signals in a certain time interval that the receivers (e.g. smartphones) can understand and process. This makes it easy to determine the location of the recipient, which also enables indoor navigation.
Categories of the measured distance
Depending on the signal strength, the measured distance between transmitter and receiver is divided into one of the following categories:
The immediate – distance a few centimeters
Near – distance a few meters
Far – distance up to 70 meters
A beacon can send a broadcast to the receiver if the receiver either enters the region, “exited”, or stays in the region (“lingered”) – depending on how the beacon was configured. These beacons can be configured via a management platform from the manufacturer. The device is registered using the unique identification number (UUID), major and minor of the beacon. Events can also be assigned to the beacon.
Management platforms of beacons
The beacons only send their “identity” (UUID, Major, Minor). The associated app – if the receiver is a smartphone – has to interpret this signal and know what to do with it. However, the smartphone only receives this signal when Bluetooth is activated. How the app deals with the information depend on the implementation. The desired action (e.g. displaying a push notification) is either implemented in the app itself or additional information is requested from a server. However, the information does not always have to be displayed on the smartphone, but movement patterns can also be recorded and later analyzed. An example of this is the recording of walkways in stores, which can help optimize store layouts.
What are the advantages of Beacon Technology?
The technology explained and the associated options make beacons particularly exciting in location-based service: BLE can be used wherever you cannot reach a sufficiently precise position because GPS or Wi-Fi is not available with the accuracy you need, The technology can also be used where the distance from NFC would not be sufficient.
In addition, beacons send signals to the user’s device without any action being required, as is the case with QR or AR codes, for example, which the user must capture with the camera. In the indoor area, floors are no longer obstacles.
This peculiarity uses the iBeacon protocol and gives a “ranging”, a relative distance measurement with “Immediate” says that you are only a few centimeters away, “Near” means a few meters and “Far” means more than 10 m away from the beacon, The applications of this technology seem almost endless: you can use relative and absolute positions to the beacons and thus revolutionize entire branches of industry.
How beacons can be used?
Beacon technology has already arrived in offline trade and is hotly traded as a wonder weapon for the RoPo (research online – purchase offline) case. With the appropriate app, the smartphone can use a beacon signal to identify whether the user is in the vicinity of shops and products that are of interest to him. Here is a small example:
Max sits on the couch in the evening and looks at a new collection of winter coats, consults with friends on social channels and states which products he likes. A short time later he is in a shopping street with a shop that offers this collection. The app registers the radio signals of the beacons in the background and evaluates them: a push message informs Max that a coat can be bought nearby and sends him a discount voucher. Max then opens the app. Through other beacons installed in his area, Max can see his position on a map and the navigation path to the corresponding store is displayed.
In the store, another push is triggered on the employee’s tablet that a potential customer is on the way. She also informs him of the approximate time until it arrives. If Max already has a customer account, the employee also learns Max’s first name and what product he is looking for – the winter coat. When Max arrives, the seller can approach him and speak to him personally, with the desired product in hand. If this seems familiar to you: that’s state-of-the-art in e-commerce.
What are the areas of application?
IoT Beacon technology can easily be integrated into everyday life.
The first shopping centers in America are already equipped with beacons. If a customer enters the store equipped with beacons, he will be informed about special offers, discounts, and vouchers, or he will be reminded of his birthday voucher that has not yet been redeemed. If the customer has saved the store’s customer card in the associated app, it can already be opened at the checkout.
Additional product information, for example, the ingredients of a food, can also be displayed in a supermarket.
Another futuristic use case would be that in the future payment for the purchase will be made automatically when you leave the store. For example, beacons could be used as a good alternative to NFC in the mobile payment segment.
Another area of
Beacons can also be used to support the household. For example, if you approach the stove, the cookbook app opens. If you approach the refrigerator, the shopping list opens.
The possibilities for using beacons are therefore very broad.
There are already many areas of application for beacons that should make our daily lives easier and support standard processes through automation.
The use of beacons is particularly interesting for the areas of marketing, advertising, indoor navigation, and mobile payment. Although this technology is still in its infancy and will continue to develop in the coming years, some applications have already been implemented. It remains to be seen to what extent the trend with the beacons will develop and prove useful.