Integrating Beacons into Existing Systems

There are three main ways beacons can be integrated into existing systems:

1. Using Smartphone Apps

Beacons are usually stationary. Apps on users’ smartphone use the standard Bluetooth iOS and Android APIs to detect beacons and send information to your cloud or servers, typically via HTTP(S).

2. Using Ethernet/WiFi Gateways

Beacons are using moving. Gateways in fixed positions detect beacons and send information to your cloud or servers, typically via HTTP(S) or MQTT.

3. Using an Intermediate Platform Such as a Real Time Location System (RTLS)

This is a variant on #2 in that gateways send information to a system such as BeaconRTLS™ or PrecisionRTLS™. These systems have HTTP(S) APIs that can be used by your cloud or servers.

More information:
What are beacons?
Beacons for the Internet of Things (IoT)

If you need more project specific help we also offer consultancy and feasibility studies.

Extending BeaconRTLS™ Reporting

BeaconRTLS™ has a myriad of uses across logistics, manufacturing, healthcare and facilities management. It tracks assets and people to locate them in real time and detect anomalies to improve operational efficiency. This also extends to IoT sensing using sensor beacons that measure temperature, humidity, movement, light, proximity and open/closed.

The system allows you to search for and map the location of beacons. You can set up screen and email alerts based on asset type, location and sensor data. But what if you need more than this?

BeaconRTLS™ stores historical information which provides for industry or scenario specific reporting. For example, recent customers have been asking for Covid specific reports such as room occupancy and who has been in the same room at the same time.

The BeaconRTLS™ API allows your systems or reporting systems to access the data. However, this is of less use for those who want to implement solutions quickly and easily. The tricky part is that we have found every customer tends to need different reporting. Up until now we have been creating ad-hoc reports on a case by case basis.

We have been looking to standardise how custom reports are created with BeaconRTLS™ to reduce effort, time and cost and allow more customers to create reports for themselves. To enable this we have integrated BeaconRTLS™ with Grafana.

Grafana is a free, commonly used open source platform that allows you to show data in custom ways using dashboards and panels. We are creating example Grafana reports for use with BeaconRTLS™ that our customers can use directly or modify for their own use.

Grafana reporting where a beacon has been

Contact us if you are interested in using BeaconRTLS™ and would like to take part in the pilot of BeaconRTLS™ with Grafana.

Bluetooth LE (BLE) Real Time Locating System (RTLS) API

Our BeaconRTLS™ locates valuable plant tools in manufacturing/construction and tracks parts and sub-assemblies. In healthcare it tracks high value equipment, monitors the location and temperature of medicines and saves time searching for equipment and monitoring vulnerable patients. For smart buildings, it tracks valuable assets, monitors lone workers and automatically locates people or students for safety and evacuation.

When we designed v2 of BeaconRTLS™ we purposely omitted any reporting. While the system creates alerts for situations such as area entry/exit, unexpected movement and missing assets there are no text or pdf based reports. For v1, we found that each customer needed different output reporting data. Some needed textual reports, others pdfs, Excel or electronic links to other systems. Some needed current information, historical, special subsets or calculated data. The required data also tends to change over time. For example, room occupancy has recently become important due to the Covid pandemic.

Instead of fixed reports, all the data in the system is open and accessible via a HTTP REST API which makes the system very flexible. Open doesn’t mean insecure because the API can use SSL (https) and authentication (needs a special key to access). We can create reports and part of your solution but it’s simple enough that we find many customers are able to do this themselves. The BeaconRTLS™ user guide provides examples how to use the REST API.

The BeaconRTLS™ API can be used from generic report writers such as jsreport, Jasper and other report writers. Excel Power Query , that comes free with Excel, is useful as it allows importing of data into Excel using a HTTP REST query which can be set up to automatically refresh every so often. Once in Excel, there’s a huge number of ways data can be re-formatted, combined, filtered, presented and forwarded.

The main output information in BeaconRTLS is provided as BeaconLocation data that has the following format:

"dateTime": "2020-07-10T10:56:42.809Z",
"RSSI": 0,
"beaconMACAddress": "string",
"gatewayMACAddress": "string",
"beaconType": "string",
"beaconColour": "string",
"beaconLabelAttributes": "string",
"temperature": 0,
"humidity": 0,
"accelerationX": 0,
"accelerationY": 0,
"accelerationZ": 0,
"batteryPercentage": 0,
"batteryVoltage": 0,
"magneticSwitch": true,
"moving": "string",
"proximity": true,
"airPressure": 0,
"lightLevel": 0,
"buttonPress": true,
"id": "string",
"beaconId": "string",
"nearestGatewayId": "string",
"areaId": "string"

For example, the following REST query fetches the beacon, gateway and time for most recent 20 beaconlocations:

http://<your ip or domain/api/beaconlocations?filter[fields][beaconMACAddress]=true&filter[fields][gatewayMACAddress]=true&filter[fields][dateTime]=true&filter[limit]=20&filter[order]=dateTime%20DESC

Putting this into Excel Power Query gets the data directly into Excel.

Read about BeaconRTLS™

Measuring Occupancy for Social Distancing

Governments are increasingly mandating workplace indoor occupancy limits due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This is especially so in education where the risk of reduced social distancing is being mitigated with occupancy limits.

Occupancy is the number of people that are currently inside a building, room or zone. Measuring occupancy manually requires significant effort, additional staff, is error prone and is difficult to achieve, especially when there are multiple entrances and exits.

It’s for this reason, we are seeing organisations starting to use automated approaches. Real time locating systems (RTLS) such as our BeaconRTLS™ use Bluetooth beacons on people and gateways in rooms/zones to track who is where. The resultant data provides for accurate current and historical occupancy.

Once you have a system in place it has lots of other uses:

  • Finding people
  • Locating staff for safety and evacuation
  • Finding expensive assets shared amongst staff
  • Providing alerts if things move when they shouldn’t
  • Detecting when collisions occur between vehicles/racking
  • Tracing of parts, sub-assemblies and physical orders
  • Supporting IoT sensing including light, temperature, humidity, water leak, gas
  • Creating big data for use with AI to provide insights using patterns the data

Read more about BeaconRTLS™

Advertising Change Stream

If you work in IT and particularly if you have knowledge of programming, you will know it’s best to be informed of data rather than repeatedly request changes.

Repeatedly requesting changes, called polling, wastes resources when there’s no data returned. It also doesn’t get the data as soon it is available as you have to wait for the next poll.

A feature of our BeaconServer™ and BeaconRTLS™ is that they offer change stream data on all database data. Change stream is a standard web (HTTP(S)) protocol that provides data to systems and apps as and when it becomes available. The client sets up a long running HTTP connection and then receives updates.

The stream looks something like:

First you get an ‘ok’ followed by data as and when it becomes available. The above only shows a generic iBeacon. When used with sensor beacons this also includes all decoded data such as movement, temperature, humidity, air pressure, light and magnetism (hall effect), proximity (short range IR and PIR) and fall detection.

BeaconServer™ and BeaconRTLS™ provide REST based insert, update, query and change stream on all data allowing external systems and apps to fully use the system. This can also be authenticated via HTTP header tokens to prevent unauthorised access.

An example of use of the change stream is BeaconRTLS™ itself. The web UI uses the change stream to asynchronously update the UI with no flicker or redraw. All data, including beacons, locations and alerts are obtained asynchronously from the server (image below not live at it needs login):

Beacons and The 4th Industrial Revolution

We previously wrote about how beacons are part of Industry 4.0 and how implementations need to achieve a return on investment. Industry 4.0 is also being called ‘The 4th Industrial Revolution’ (4IR).

Oracle and the EEF have an excellent free, recent, paper (registration NOT required) on The 4th Industrial Revolution: A Primer for Manufacturers. It concludes 4IR isn’t hype and should be taken seriously. Here’s how manufacturers themselves see 4IR:

Manufacturing is undergoing a transformation. The report says it’s all about data connectivity. However, the report falls short on explaining how data can be sensed and captured. Sensor beacons, gateways and beacon platforms such as our BeaconRTLS are one such solution that helps fill that gap.

Read more about beacons and the IoT

How Does Using Beacons for Tracking Compare with the Use of RFID?

The main difference between beacons and RFID is the range. RFID only works up to 1m while beacons typically reach 50m to 100m, even more for specialist beacons. It’s also possible to get an indication of distance to the beacon whereas with RFID it’s just ‘seen’ or ‘not seen’.

RFID tags are less expensive than beacons. However, as the range of beacons is much larger, fewer readers are required thus compensating for the extra cost. It’s also possible to totally cover a much larger area.

Beacons and Lone Workers

There are types of working where workers work alone without close or direct supervision. Employers have a legal duty of care to monitor such employees so that they can detect accidents, illness and, in some cases, an attack.

There are some rudimentary systems in place, particularly on sites such as airports, that use short range (1cm) RFID tags that workers have to periodically ‘check in’ to. With beacons, workers don’t have to check in and much of this is now automated. It also works at much larger ranges up to 300m.

Our BeaconRTLS system maps lone workers. Alerts can be created that show when people haven’t changed zone for a configurable amount of time. It’s also possible to trigger alerts when people enter or leave zones or when they press an ’emergency’ button on the beacon.

What’s more, the system can be used to map assets as well as people and when used with sensor beacons can detect and alert based on environmental factors such as temperature, humidity or whether doors are open or closed.

Contact us about BeaconRTLS.