What is Possible with Beacons and Bluetooth LE: Dreams Beaconning Reality

With a general understanding of Bluetooth Low Energy and beacons, (if you’re still in the dark, see our previous posts on Bluetooth LE and beacons) now you must be wondering how you can utilize this technology to develop new business opportunities or create unique customer experiences for your services. In order to do so, you must consider the different scenarios of integrating beacons and determine which scenario best suits your need. In this post, we will break down beacon user scenarios into three categories and give examples for you to use as a guideline in determining your own way of exploiting beacons.

Any service or solution using beacons will always have to consider two factors in structuring the user scenario: beacons and receivers. With this in mind, the three basic scenarios for beacons are:

  1. Beacons as a constant and receivers as a variable
  2. Beacons as a variable and receivers as a constant
  3. Beacons and receivers both as variables

To further explain the terminology used here to describe the different situations, beacons are device that send out a Bluetooth LE signal and receivers are devices that detect signals from beacons. Although any smart device like a smartphone or tablet can be used as a receiver, receivers do not necessarily have to be smart devices or even connected to a network, if you set them up planning for that.

To continue, a “constant” means a device that does not physically move to a different location during the entire duration of the service, and a “variable” means a device that is free to roam around as needed. For instance a beacon or a receiver attached to a wall is considered a “constant”, and any smartphone on the street can be considered a “variable”.

beacons are device that send out a Bluetooth LE signal and receivers are devices that detect signals from beacons

Scenario 1 is currently the most well known case of the three, since it is easily suited to a B2C context. The most common example would be a retail store push notification system, where retailers can push information to customers’ smartphones such as coupons, special offers, or product recommendations. Another example of scenario 1 is placing beacons in venues such as museums and galleries. By placing a beacon on each artifact, you can create an automated docent system where visitors receive additional information about each artifact as they approach it. The additional information can be in any form, from simple text and images to videos or even narration in different languages.

Scenario 2 is more challenging to develop as a service model and it is generally more suited to a B2B context. A simple application of scenario 2 would be a cargo tracking system. By attaching beacons to cargo container trucks and placing receivers at the docking sites, you can track the time and place each cargo is unloaded. A more complex version of this example would be attaching beacons to shopping carts in large grocery stores. By installing receivers on every aisle, you could track each shopper’s movement path and use this data to analyze customers’ shopping behaviors.

Scenario 3 is the most unique and creative scenario and has the most room to be explored. A great example of scenario 3 is the lost and found service model. By attaching a beacon to an object or even a person, such as a young child, you can track the whereabouts of the variable objects in proximity to your variable receiver, in this case your smartphones. When the variable beacon you registered is out of range of your smartphone you will be alerted via alarm, e-mail, or even a phone call. If another person is using the same lost and found service, and the lost beacon that is out of your receiver’s range comes into that person’s proximity, he or she can alert you the location so you can track back and find your beacon. This is a great service that can be very useful if it can scale up to provide enough geographic coverage.

Although we simplified the scenarios to consider just two factors, beacons and receivers, it is technically possible for receivers to act as beacons by changing the configuration, which can lead to more application possibilities. The user scenarios and service examples given in this post are just a glimpse of the potential that exists in the world of beacons and Bluetooth LE. However there are also limitations you must consider before jumping into developing services using beacons, and we will look more into those in our next post.

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