Beacons for Restaurant Order Apps

A growing number of restaurant ordering apps, such as Voolsy, use Bluetooth beacons to determine location.

Voolsy detects restaurants through iBeacons, lets customers explore digital menu, customize their order and place it with just a few taps across thousands of locations. Voolsy reduces your waiting time to get attention of waiter from minutes to seconds

Voolsy supports both ordering and payment for retail locations such as restaurants, food courts or cinemas using beacons. It also provides Voolsy cashback and other exclusive offers from partnered restaurants.

Why Doesn’t the Manufacturer’s Configuration App Connect?

When in typical use, it’s not necessary to connect to a beacon. A beacon just advertises and is detected by a smartphone or Bluetooth gateway. However, to initially set up a beacon you usually connect via a smartphone app. The app might not connect for a number of reasons. Here are some tips:

  • Most beacons need to be put into ‘connectable’ mode. For example, for most AnkhMaway beacons this means tapping them sharply on a table until they ring – they remain connectable for 45 secs and once connected remain so until you have configured the beacon. For Axaet and Meeblue beacons they stay connectable for a few minutes after turning them on.
  • Make sure you are connecting to the correct beacon. This is especially important if you are seeing multiple Bluetooth devices in the list. For example, we had one customer who hadn’t removed the plastic battery slip and had been trying to connect to some other Bluetooth beacon/device.
  • Connecting, via what is a wireless interface, might not work first time. While most connections do happen first time, there can be radio interference and radio signal reflections that can cause the connection to fail. Some configuration apps re-try if the first connect fails while others don’t. Make sure you have tried a few times before concluding a particular scenario doesn’t work.
  • Some phones have a faulty Bluetooth beacon stack. That’s the Bluetooth software built into your phone. While you might be able to view the beacon, connecting to it to change settings uses more advanced functionality that’s sometimes faulty. Over time, we have discovered about 5% of our customers have such problems, more so on Android. It’s a much more common problem than a faulty beacon. You can isolate this possibility by trying a different phone and/or different phone OS type.
  • Don’t try connecting from more than one phone at a time. When connected, that phone has exclusive access to the beacon and other phones won’t be able to see the beacon and connect.
  • Try rebooting your phone to reset the internal Bluetooth software.
  • Try resetting the beacon by removing and replacing the battery (where possible). This isn’t the same as turning off via a button press which usually only puts the beacon into hibernation and doesn’t restart the device.
  • Some configuration apps have known bugs. Read the BeaconZone technical area for your particular beacon manufacturer where we document known problems and workarounds.
  • The beacon could be faulty. This is actually a very rare occurrence and you should initially be considering other more likely possibilities (above). You can isolate this possibility if you have another similar beacon. Please contact us for replacement if you conclude you have a faulty beacon.

Learn About Indoor Positioning

There’s a recent paper Review of Indoor Positioning: Radio Wave Technology that provides a great overview of indoor positioning technologies.

From a hardware perspective it covers, RFID, UWB, Bluetooth, ZigBee, IR, WiFi, ultrasonic and hybrid systems. There’s a useful comparison table of the various technologies:

The paper describes methods of using radio signals to determine position such as RSSI ranging, trilateration, angle of arrival (AOA), round trip time of flight (RTOF), phase of arrival (POA) and time of arrival (TOA).

Trilateration

It also describes methods such as fingerprint localization.

Why Doesn’t The Beacon Achieve The Specified Range?

The distance that a beacon can transmit is shown in the specification tab for each beacon. This is the maximum range specified by the manufacturer at maximum power under ideal conditions.

Here are some tips if the range is less than expected:

  • Make sure the beacon is operating in normal rather than configuration or connectable mode. Some beacons transmit differently or only for a limited time when they are in connectable mode. For example, with AnkhMaway beacons, make sure the mode has been set to ‘On’ either in the configuration app settings or via service/characteristic parameters.
  • Make sure the beacon is set to 0dBm transmit power (or higher) rather than a negative value that indicates the beacon is to transmit with reduced power.
  • Re-orient the beacon. Most beacons have antennas on the printed circuit board that have differing transmission characteristics depending on their orientation to the observer and whether they are shielded by other components such as the battery. Experiment with different orientations in each of the three dimensions.
  • Try a different observing device (phone). Different phones have different receiving characteristics.
  • Try at a different place. In rare circumstances, the area might be congested with 2.4GHz interference from other beacons, WiFi or other equipment. The area might have particular radio frequency (RF) blocking or reflective qualities.
  • If you can, try a different beacon of the same model to isolate whether it’s a faulty beacon.

The maximum specified range is rarely achieved for any beacon although there have been a cases where we have found beacons to be better than the specification.

All manufacturers, not just those whose beacons we sell, tend to specify the optimum range, outdoors, with no radio interference. You will experience reduced range indoors where there are radio reflections and obstacles. If you need a long range under all circumstances then we recommend you over-specify the beacon range and perhaps look at beacons with an ultra-long range.

Underground Mine Truck Transport Analysis Using Beacons

There’s recent research into using Bluetooth beacons in mines. The paper by Department of Energy Resources Engineering, Pukyong National University, Korea on Analysis and Diagnosis of Truck Transport Routes in Underground Mines Using Transport Time Data Collected through Bluetooth Beacons and Tablet Computers analyses truck travel times.

Beacons are detected by truck mounted tablet computers and analysed by a cloud server. This was tested in a limestone mine located in Jeongseon, Korea. The system is able to detect sections of routes that are stable and unstable so as to highlight areas that need further analysis and remediation to improve transit flow.

View the beacon used in this research

Mesh-based Panic Button

There’s an article at business of business on how Yasmine Mustafa has created a new business Roar For Good that supplies smart panic buttons for hotel and hospitality workers.

This is one of the first applications of Bluetooth Mesh outside of lighting. Workers push the panic button if they need help. A nearby beacon is used to identify their location and a notification is sent to security or the hotel manager.

Read about Bluetooth Mesh

What are the Estimated Distances for Tx Powers?

Beacons allow you to set the transmit power to levels such as -30dBm, -20dBm, -16dBm, -12dBm, -8dBm, -4dBm, 0dBm and +4dBm. The number of actual setting values depends on the beacon. 0dbm is the default power recommended for normal use. Our article on Choosing the Transmitted Power explains these values and how they relate to distance.

We are often asked ‘What are the Estimated Distance/s for Tx Powers?’. This depends on the beacon, the environment and the receiver. An analogy is someone shouting a word. How loud does someone have to shout to be heard a certain distance? It depends on how clear the person shouts, how much noise there is and how well the person listening can hear. With beacons it depends on the beacon (mainly antenna) design, how much radio frequency (RF) noise there is, the degree of RF reflections, the receiving ability of the device (smartphone or gateway) you are using and even the weather.

The only way to determine the relationship between distance and power is experimentally and it will likely change over time as the environment changes.

Flutter Beacon Plugin

If you want to try Bluetooth beacon advertising from your iOS or Android smartphone there’s a Flutter plugin called beacon_broadcast:

Simulating a beacon from a smartphone is a great way to get started and explore Bluetooth LE prior to buying dedicated hardware devices. However, it’s not something you should progress to regular use because advertising in this way uses a lot of battery power.

Beacon_broadcast is open source and the source code can be found on GitHub.