August 13th, 2014
7 cool uses of beacons you may not expect
Beacons are a useful new twist on location awareness, tying a unique ID to a small device that apps can use to discover not just location but other relevant context about the beacon’s location or what it is attached to.
Most beacon trials involve spam-like use by retailers, such as shoppers getting pitches for specific brands of cereal while walking down the cereal aisle, but there are better uses of beacons being piloted. These examples come from Onyx Beacons and StickNFind, two beacon vendors that work with a wide range of industries, reflecting actual pilot projects.
Identify passengers stuck in airport security
A consortium of airlines and airports is testing placement of beacons at security lines in airports. Passengers’ airline apps would know those people are in the security line, and airlines could thus know if there are people at risk of missing their flight so they can send out reps to get them or hold the plane. The same notion could be used at airport gates to monitor people who risk missing connecting flights or whose gates have changed — even helping them get to their new gate faster.
Remember to take out the garbage
Imagine: You affix a beacon to your garbage can, and your task manager knows that Thursday is garbage pickup day. If you go past your garbage can on Thursday, a BLE auto-connection sends you a reminder to take it out. Combine that with GPS location detection from your phone, and your app will know if you did actually move the can to the curb and not remind you.
Track things smarter
All sorts of industries are looking at affixing beacons to pallets, carts, and other movable equipment to track location as they move about. Think airline cargo containers, hospitals’ computers-on-wheels, warehouse pallets, museum artwork, bulldozers at a construction sites, contractors at a job site, even hospital patients, students, or visitors (so they don’t get lost and their movement patterns can be discovered, such as for space planning).
Authorize access to cars, buildings, and more
We already have Bluetooth fobs to unlock our cars so we can drive them and Bluetooth locks that know it’s your iPhone at the door. Kaiser Permanente uses Bluetooth badges to authorize physician access to their individual accounts in shared computers in each exam room. The same can be done with tablets.
So it’s no surprise that companies are exploring the use of beacons and people’s own mobile devices as access systems in their buildings or to unlock and start your car rather than use proprietary radio readers or fobs.
Navigate buildings and other spaces
When you visit a customer, you often get lost when trying to find a conference room, bathroom, or kitchen. Beacons can be used both as virtual “where am I?” kiosks and as monitors of your movement, so an app can guide you to your destination — and alert the company if you wander where you shouldn’t.
Plus, you can get information about where you are, whether about the artist whose painting you are viewing in a museum or the instructions for the copier you’re trying to operate — even just the Wi-Fi password for the conference room’s public hotspot.
Check out ski conditions at the lift
One ski resort is placing beacons at ski lift entrances not just to track the number of people using each lift, but to let skiers check the conditions for the runs available at each lift before they get on the lift. If a resort’s app had information about your age or skiing skills, it could even suggest that you should try a different run and thus go to a different lift.
Provide smarter signage
Signs are great, but limited. They provide only the information they provide, and they are often limited to one or two languages. If signs were beacon-enabled, users could get translations in their languages and get more information than any sign could hold. You can imagine such uses in zoos, museums, and botanical gardens, but also amusement parks, airport lobbies, and hospitals.