The role of beacons in the ‘Internet of Things’

Feb 12, 2015

We now live in a world where connections allow us to be always on, no matter where we are. As connections went from the phone, to computers, mobile devices, tablets and wearables, the ability to improve workflow processes, customer engagement and business intelligence has increased at an exponential rate.

However despite this ability to connect, there are still a vast number of tasks that require people to undertake a lot of manual work. This is partly because there remains a vast number of physical objects or spaces that lack any form of intelligence. This is all changing though, thanks to the Internet of Things, where physical objects are being connected.

One technology that has emerged, as a key connector for objects, is Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons. At their core, beacons are a proximity technology that trigger the right action within specific apps. This enables apps to be smarter and work in the context of their surroundings, vastly reducing the number of steps it requires to complete a process or task.

By improving the way in which employees access what they need, when they need it via mobile, it allows for the provision of valuable context. This equates to improvements in efficiencies and cost savings.

Beacons are a connecting technology for the Internet of Things, by giving physical objects a presence. Beacons can communicate with a device to indicate its location, but by working with other sensors which can also measure temperature, moisture and weight, further intelligence can be added as well. Beyond location awareness, beacons can provide employees with intel on a variety environmental indicators.

The most obvious place where beacons will have a direct impact on operational efficiencies is in the field. When you have engineers going to multiple sites throughout the week, it’s imperative to reduce the number of steps it takes to complete a task.

At the moment, an engineer equipped with paper based documentation, or if they are lucky, a mobile device, still has to spend time going to every asset, checking it, logging information and, if required, spending time maintaining it.

Beacons help to reduce this process by giving each asset a presence and intelligence. With beacons, when an engineer approaches each asset, it triggers past service history and then provides the engineer with exactly what they need, based on the asset they are in front of.

By utilising other sensors, this could mean the engineer only needs to focus on the assets that need attention. From the interaction with beacons, the information can be collected to be fed into the company’s backend to help with business intelligence.

Taking this and applying it to any scenario where you have an existing machine, product or space that would benefit from having ‘connectivity’ can reveal where beacons add value. Beacons connect these items with mobile devices to help drive better user discovery and intelligence.

One such example of this is Microsoft’s Cities Unlocked project with Guide Dogs and Future Cities Catapult. This project, which uses BLE beacons from MiBeacons, provides blind people with awareness of their surroundings. By wearing a bone-conducting headset that features a number of sensors, paired with a Windows Phone device and app, the wearer is able to find out what is nearby.

When talking about beacons, it’s important to remember that the intelligence takes place through an app or backend system. This does add a level of complexity, as it’s not just as simple as adding a beacon, but knowing what the beacon needs to achieve.

MiBeacons has already begun to understand the opportunities in which beacons can be used beyond a marketing tool. Often, it’s about starting with a simple requirement or problem to be solved and working up from there.

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