2015-09-12

Beacons

SAM_1338sUsually based on Bluetooth Low Energy (or Bluetooth Smart), beacons are broadcasting IDs or URLs, so that an intelligent device (typically a mobile phone) can react on the data when detected.

The beacon’s data is sent continuously usually at an interval of 1 second, depending on what responsiveness is needed for a certain situation.

The power level of the BLE radio can usually also be controlled, to provide a trade-off between detection distance and battery drain.

Not all beacons are battery-powered though. There are USB and power supply variants available as well.

In theory BLE can reach 100 meters, but is very sensitive to obstructions, so it’s enough with some metal or water in between the beacon and the detecting device to lower that distance considerably. Even at full power, don’t expect more than 20-30 meters in a practical setting.

Technologies

There are numerous beacon formats being available, essentially differing in what data is being sent:

  • iBeacon: Apple’s pioneering variant of beacon, sending UUID, major ID and minor ID, that can all be configured to one’s liking
  • Eddystone: Google’s variant of beacon, providing separate packets with different uses: UID (similar to iBeacon), URL (supported by Chrome and soon Android), TLM (beacon status)
  • AltBeacon: An open-source format, backwards compatible with iBeacon

Almost all deployed beacons use iBeacon. Eddystone comes second, and then mainly transmitting URLs. There are several providers that have beacons that support either iBeacon or Eddystone in the same device.

Uses

As the focus is access and interpretation via mobile phones, uses are typically in situations where people move around, e.g. in retail, exhibits, conferences, museums etc.

Abiro provides support for iBeacon and Eddystone-URL (as of yet) in CliqTags. On the site are described more about beacons and uses thereof.