What, Exactly, Is a Beacon?
Apple iBeacons were the first to hit the market in 2014, closely followed by Google’s Eddystone beacons in 2015, and is now expected to surpass $25 billion by 2024. Beacons are small, wireless transmitters that use low-energy Bluetooth technology to send signals to other smart devices nearby. Simply put, devices utilizing this technology are able to connect and transmit location-based information quickly and accurately.
Unlike GPS-based systems that work only outdoors with a clear view of the sky, beacons work indoors or outdoors. Hazardous areas such as confined spaces, by their very nature, preclude access to a clear open sky, making GPS-based systems ineffective.
Five latest beacon technology updates to watch out for in 2021
1. Beacons for contact tracing to track and curb the spread of COVID-19
Google and Apple, two technology giants, announced a COVID-19 contact tracing framework that uses Bluetooth to help governments and health officials reduce the virus’s spread.
The contact tracing application is rather an Exposure Notification programming interface (API) that apps can interact with. Google and Apple harness the power of Bluetooth to aid in exposure notifications of the virus.
How does it work?
A smartphone running an app that uses the Exposure Notification API will periodically use Bluetooth to ping other phones with a random beacon. The beacon changes regularly to enhance security while the phone stores the list of beacons that it connects with nearby.
When each phone receives another beacon, it will record and securely store that beacon on the device.
The system downloads a list of keys for the beacon verified by people who tested positive for COVID-19 at least once a day. Each device will then check against the list of beacons already recorded from its server. If there is a match between the beacons stored and the positive diagnosis list, the user will be notified and advised on the beacons’ list next steps.
Beacons, with the help of Bluetooth technology, can be used extensively by governments and health officials to track users to curb the spread of the virus. The system does not extensively rely on smartphones, but with the beacon system that helps review an individual’s location history and if they have come in contact with an infected person.
Contact tracing with the aid of beacons works only with a corresponding app to track and curb the spread of the virus.
2. Wearable bracelets to track social distancing at workplaces
As several businesses plan to resume on-site operations, many plans to equip their employees with new, anti-pandemic gear – wearable tech that could prevent the virus.
Several companies are rolling out wearable bracelets that help with social distancing and tracking the virus with the help of BLE beacon.
The idea behind beacon-based wearable technology is to help employers maintain a pulse on any possible transmission among their workforces and provide them with the ability to curtail any spread before it becomes an outsized risk.
How does it work?
The bracelets’ hardware includes passive GPS location tracking and proximity sensors powered by Bluetooth and ultra-wide-band radio connectivity, a rechargeable battery, and built-in LTE.
When a user updates their status to indicate possible infection, the bracelet notifies others they have been in contact with based on proximity and location-data history. This information is also stored in a health dashboard that provides detailed logs of possible contacts for centralized management.
Facedrive Health rolled out BLE Connect App on Google Play Store and Apple Store to pair with their existing TraceSCAN wearable technology to contain the virus’s spread.
The data is stored locally on the TraceSCAN device and is only uploaded via the app if the user tests positive for COVID-19. It then enables administrators to notify recent close contacts of the users and to take necessary action to contain the spread of the virus.
“We believe that the BLE Connect will be a great addition to TraceSCAN’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing Solutions, allowing business owners and their employees to take every precaution necessary to protect them and their loved ones while returning to the workplace,” said Facedrive Chairman and CEO Sayan Navaratnam.
3. Easy tracking of items
It is not too uncommon to lose things like keys, socks, or even identify parked cars in a parking lot.
Beacons can help users identify any lost item as long as the device, and the missing item is well within the beacon range. When a beacon is attached to any object, smartphones having BLE capability within the proximity range sense the lost item when the app is running in the background.
An Israeli start-up, Wiliot, has developed a Bluetooth aided beacon app to help retrieve lost socks in the washer. Its main product is a postage-stamp-sized Bluetooth beacon that can be attached anywhere – on clothing, medicine bottles, appliances, and even on wallpapers.
The beacon transmits the item’s location, and when coupled with sensor pads, identifies its temperature and weight to alert the user of the lost item.
4. Remote ordering at restaurants
According to GlobalData’s COVID-19 tracker consumer survey in the UK, 83% of consumers admitted that services that made them feel trustworthy influenced their purchase decisions.
As restaurants and pubs begin to gear up the safe reopening, technologies such as QR Codes and beacons are being implemented for secure ordering to curb the virus’s spread.
OrderPay, a mobile ordering app, partnered with several popular chains in the UK to help them meet their social distancing requirements.
The order and payment platform uses ‘tap and go’ technology so customers can serve themselves to reduce contact with staff and avoid long queue lines. At the same time, it utilizes beacon technology that helps servers identify the guests in their restaurant to facilitate easy table service.
Beacons can help restaurants and diners establish a safe and hygienic environment for their diners by identifying their customers without going through the entire space and equipping a no-contact ordering system with the help of QR Codes.
5. Enhanced asset and inventory management
Apptricity, a company that provides asset and inventory tracking management, has developed a Bluetooth beacon that can transmit signals over 32 kilometers (20 miles).
Asset and inventory management typically uses labor-intensive technology such as barcodes or passive RFID scanning, which are limited both by distance and the fact that a person scans the code directly, resulting in human error.
Bluetooth beacons can pinpoint an item’s location and send updates about a piece of equipment that needs maintenance and even a routine check-up.
The latest Bluetooth beacons are precise and help companies track their asset and inventory without any hiccups.