Exploiting full potential of iBeacons for Internet of Things

One of the most exciting aspects of the Internet of Things is seeing how, when more people are exposed to one of its technologies, they find uses for it that the inventors might not have visualized.  I give you … the iBeacon.

The Apple protocol (again, my obligatory disclaimer that I work part-time at an Apple Store, but have no inside information or any obligation to hype their tech) is used in Bluetooth low-energy transmitters (“beacons”) that broadcast their location to nearby devices so they can perform actions such as social-media check-ins or push notifications while near the beacon.  They’re most frequently used in marketing to offer targeted bargains, and primarily have been used by the biggest retailers and sites such as major-league ballparks, but, as you’ll see, not always.

At the Re-Work Internet of Things Summit I met two young entrepreneurs, Justin Mann and Ben Smith  of Beacons in Space, a Boston startup that would allow new apps to leverage existing installed iBeacons — typically installed by large retailers and closed to others —  instead of having to add more beacons in a given space. This would be done through a subscription model with a simple API on top of a beacon rental marketplace. It would allow smaller developers can scale their developments and projects without having to invest in a redundant iBeacon array.

But I was particularly interested in how some clever developers are applying iBeacons outside retail settings.

One is at the Zoom Torino Biopark in Cumiana, Italy. iBeacons around the zoo trigger an app including an interactive map that helps visitors move around the park by giving their exact location and showing where other attractions are located.

“As visitors discover the six different habitat environments of the park, they will be able to unlock specific details, facts and suggestions throughout their journey thanks to hidden Bluetooth transmitting beacons, which trigger relevant content on a visitor’s smartphone based on their location.

“Users will also benefit from alerts on their mobile device informing them of special events during their visit, like meeting animals or presentations. By engaging with the app, visiting certain locations within the park and answering quiz questions, visitors can also earn promotional items and discount coupons for use within the park.”

installing iBeacon on Bucharest trolley to guide visually-impaired

Best of all,  Romania is using them in a very clever system, The Smart Public Transport (SPT) solution, to give visually-impaired riders audio clues through their smartphone about Bucharest’s bus system, a joint project of the Smart Public Transport project and Romania’s RATB trolley buses. Onyx Beacon, a Romanian company, is installing 500 Beacons on the city’s most heavily used public transportation vehicles (the project, incidentally, was funded by Vodafone under its “Mobile for Good” program, encouraging use of technology for social programs and to solve specific problems of those with special personal needs).

All of these projects show the utility — provided there are privacy and security provisions built in, and the systems are opt-in, of iBeacons for giving hyper-localized information and offers. If the Beacons in Space concept takes off, to eliminate the need to deploy more iBeacons for every new app, the concept might really become an important part of the IoT, whether for retail or civic uses.