If you own a business or are involved in marketing, you may have heard about beacon technology. If not, then we will try to understand in this blog.
A beacon is a small device that transmits a Bluetooth signal at regular intervals. This signal is broadcast in a certain format, a communication protocol that describes the string of characters and numbers that make up the signal. It wirelessly transmit low-energy Bluetooth technology to send signals to other smart devices nearby. They are one of the latest developments in location technology and proximity marketing. Put simply, they connect and transmit information to smart devices making location-based searching and interaction easier and more accurate. It’s having a range upto 200 meters (approx – 650 feet). A beacon is used in businesses like Retail , Events, Education, Offices, Culture, Hospitality and Airports.
It’s kind of like a lighthouse: it repeatedly transmits a single signal that other devices can see. Instead of emitting visible light, though, it broadcasts a radio signal that is made up of a combination of letters and numbers transmitted on a regular interval of approximately 1/10th of a second. A Bluetooth-equipped device like a smartphone can “see” a beacon once it’s in range, much like sailors looking for a lighthouse to know where they are.
What’s inside beacon?
What do they look like? Beacons are very small, simple devices. If you open it, you won’t find motherboards and oodles of wires. You’ll find a CPU, radio and batteries. Beacons often use small lithium chip batteries (smaller and more powerful than AA batteries) or run via connected power like USB plugs. They come in different shapes and colors, may include accelerometers, temperature sensors but all of them have one thing in common – they transmit a signal.
What is a beacon actually transmitting?
It’s not throwing just any old message into the air. It’s transmitting a unique ID number that tells a listening device which beacon it’s next to. Really, it’s just a code name.
How can I interact with beacons?
The beacon device itself is incredibly simple. Each device contains a CPU, radio, and batteries, and it works by repeatedly broadcasting out an identifier. This identifier is picked up by your device, usually a mobile, and marks out an important place in your environment.
The identifier is a unique ID number that your smartphone recognizes as unique to the beacon. Once connected, the beacon will carry out whatever function it has been programmed to perform.
For example: When a shopping mall installs beacons in their shop, all of the beacons will have certain IDs, registered in their dedicated app. This means a smartphone app can immediately recognize that the incoming ID is important and that it’s from that particular mall. The ID, however, has little meaning on its own; it’s entirely up to an app or other program to recognize what it means.
What happens next? That depends on what the owner has programmed it to do. One code could trigger the app to send a coupon. Another could offer navigation services. The possibilities are nearly endless. All the beacon has to do is connect your exact location to the app, and the rest is up to the program.
Proximity technology is still really popular in retail settings. Pay a visit to Macy’s, American Eagle, or the Tokyo airport, and you may find beacons in place. But beacons are becoming even more popular each year. This means you’re likely to find them just about anywhere you move.
Why do we say “BLE beacons”?
BLE stands for Bluetooth Low Energy. It’s a power-efficient version of Bluetooth originally introduced in 2010. BLE low energy needs are vital to beacons, as it allows them to run for years on tiny coin-cell batteries. It also consumes far less energy than the old and clunky Bluetooth. In fact, BLE is a major driver in the IoT, allowing technology to last longer with smaller parts.
Beacons are already being used for:
- Tracking: One of the beacons’ more practical use cases is something many of us would never have guessed. In manufacturing and transport, managers need to know exactly where goods are at any given time. By attaching beacons, they can always have that information. In fact, they can even see the information from previous days or weeks.
- Navigation: Creating accurate “GPS for indoor navigation” is a popular beacon use case. What Google Maps does for the outdoors, beacons can do for the indoors. They can tell you where you are and where you’re going in a museum, festival, airport or train station.
- Security: Whether it’s making sure patients don’t go in the wrong wing or alerting factory workers to dangerous changes, beacons can automatically send notifications (either to app users or property owners) about a safety issue. Beacons can also be paired with geofencing to add an extra layer to data security.
Types of beacons
A few types of beacons are available in the market. The first one, from Apple, is the ibeacon. It utilizes Bluetooth low energy vicinity detecting technology to transmit a universally unique identifier (UUID). This UUID can be identified by a cell phone that has the required application install on it.
- iBeacons :
iBeacons come in different types, such as Universal Serial Bus (USB) sticks and small coin cell devices. iBeacon has assured licensing requirements. To make iBeacon devices, a manufacturer license from Apple is needed, as well as a license requirement for the logo of iBeacon.
- AltBeacon :
There is another type of Beacon, known as AltBeacon, which was designed by Radius Networks a few years ago. It has been specially designed to create an open market for beacon applications. It is free to use and anyone can implement beacons using their technology.
- Eddystone :
A cross-platform beacon capable of supporting Android, iOS or any platform that supports BLE beacons. This is available in GitHub under the open-source Apache v2.0 license.
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