Visitor Spaces Using Beacons

Fulham Palace and Norwegian National Museum have recently starting using Bluetooth beacons.

Norwegian Museum

Fulham Palace is using iBeacon with visitor guides. The Covid pandemic has accelerated the trend for iBeacon driven visitor guides. Using visitors’ own devices rather venue-supplied devices removes concerns regarding decontaminating shared devices. Smartphone driven guides also tend to be more interactive and allow visitors to continue to engage with content and venues after they have left the visitor space.

Norwegian National Museum is using beacons to detect the location of museum staff. Staff carry SC21 TETRA hand held radios detect beacons and upload data back to a control room.

Read about Beacons in Visitor Spaces

View iBeacons

Using AI Machine Learning to Infer Distance

There’s new research by Guglielmo Marconi University and University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, Italy on Indoor Localization System Based on Bluetooth Low Energy for Museum Applications.

The use of location in museums allows personalised tour guidance and on-demand exhibit information to be provided. Location also allows analysis of visitor flows to better design spaces through the identification of choke points and redundant areas.

Museum Bluetooth Location

The system had visitors emit Eddystone beacon advertising received by ESP32-based devices acting as gateways to a server.

Museum Bluetooth Location System

The research is novel in that it uses AI machine learning on the received signal strength (RSSI) to infer location. This helps overcome the problems of variable signal strength experienced in indoor locations due to reflections and obstacles. It also prevents the need for fingerprinting the entire area which is time consuming and fails when the physical situation changes.

RSSI Location for Museum

The method achieved accuracy of the order of 2m and this improved to 1m with the use of more receivers.

Read about Using Beacons, iBeacons for Real-time Locating Systems (RTLS)

Learn about BeaconRTLS™

Kiosk Pro for iOS Uses iBeacons

Kiosk Pro is an app for iOS that turns an iPad into a public kiosk.

The technical documentation shows how you can trigger the showing of specific information when in the vicinity of a particular beacon. For example, if the kiosk is static, people with different beacons might trigger the showing of different information. If the kiosk is moving, for example a tablet being held, it might trigger the showing of different information based on the location of, for example, different exhibits. The kiosk can also be set to advertise iBeacon that can be picked up in iOS and Android apps.

View iBeacons

Bluetooth Beacons in the Rijksmuseum

There’s an interesting post by Eirik Midttun on the the Nordic blog on Bluetooth Beacons in the Rijksmuseum.

BeaconZone’s very first solutions were apps for museums so we know a lot about the possible problems. Eirik comments that the app could be improved as it took a while to detect it was in a new room. He questions whether the beacon advertising was too long. If he was running on iOS, he could be correct. View our article on Choosing an Advertising Interval. If he was on Android it’s more likely that the Bluetooth scanning period and/or time between scans was too long.

Museum apps also tend to suffer from connectivity problems. If the connection was cellular rather than WiFi it might have been taking time to fetch the information associated with the beacon. It’s recommended to have some kind of caching content strategy for museum and visitor space apps where the best user experience is if the app can work offline.

Read about iOS and Android Apps

Read about our development Services

Holt iBeacon Trail

Holt Village has launched a new iBeacon Trail that uses the free ‘Explore North East Wales’ app from the Apple and Google app stores. It is one of twelve communities in North East Wales for which a system has been developed to find out more about the community and locations.

The project has been funded by the LEADER scheme which is a fund for rural areas in Wales to explore innovative new approaches and experimental technologies to tackle poverty, create jobs and drive sustainable economic development.

Beacons in Museums

Mr Beacon has a new video interview with Dieter Fenkart-Fröschlt, COO of the San Diego Museum of Art. The video explains why the San Diego Museum of Art adopted apps and beacons and explains some of the challenges they have faced.

The museum has about 360,000 visitors per year, 18,000 works of art with 700 to 800 works of art on display at any one time. Apps and beacons became part of their strategic planning to change how people interact with the museum and bring enquiry based learning, more typical of natural history and science museums, to an art museum.

Apps and beacons are the solution to delivering more content than can be shown on walls. They provide the stories behind the art. While the initial aim was to engage more younger audiences, it turned out the apps are used by all ages. It’s interesting that people have “fallen in love” with the museum experience, not just the art itself.

One of the largest lessons learned was that “build it they will come” doesn’t apply. Rollout needed to be holistic. Frontline staff had to be trained and visitors reminded that the app is free and part of their admission fee. There’s also marketing at conferences, events, on business cards and obviously next to the artwork itself.

One of the incidental yet profound gains had been insights through data. The museum now knows how long people spend at the museum and at each exhibit. They know the most liked and most viewed art that helps work out what kinds of art are popular (or not!). This feeds into making the museum more popular through people returning, again something that can now be measured.

The museum has about 120 beacons and the functionality of the app changes depending on whether the user is in the museum or not. Visitors can access related videos, introductions to artists and other objects in the museum related to given art. The app also displays images, for example showing how the art has changed, through conservation, over time. There are also app scavenger hunts for kids.

The main initial challenges were physical : How to fix the beacons to to walls and blend them into the colour of the wall.

View the Video to discover more

BeaconZone’s very first beacon apps were related to tagging artwork at the Folkstone Triennial, Frieze London, Saatchi Gallery and the Fine Art Society . The Mr beacon video doesn’t mention any of the technical challenges of using beacons in visitor spaces. For example, there can be problems relying on connectivity indoors that requires solutions such as intelligent caching. Care also has to be taken to prevent excessive triggering, something that becomes more complex when adjacent beacons transmission overlap. If you need more help, consider a Feasibility Study.

Using Beacons for Switching Content

There’s a great new post on Medium on iPadlocks – The Magic of Activation Beacons by Geoff Elwood of Specialist Apps. Geoff talks about using Beacons to unlock information such as Adelaide Zoo education and career trails. This allows for differentiated learning that replaces “custom codes, logins or other bits of paper”. Different experiences can be provided to different groups.

In a different scenario Geoff describes how the Bendigo Heritage Trust switches beacons on/off to provide for content that synchronises with audio/visual content and the physical location of a moving tram.

At BeaconZone was have come across beacons switching content in two other scenarios. The first is at events where content on visual video walls is synchronised with different beacon advertising and hence different content. The other use is in digital signs in streets/shopping malls that change the beacon advertising in response to different advertising.

Beacons for Smart Technologies in Tourism

There’s a thought provokingresearch paper, by Breda University of Applied Sciences (pdf) no longer available, prepared for last year’s International Tourism Student Conference on Smart Technologies in Tourism.

It’s based around a case study of 232 iBeacons having been used at SAIL Amsterdam forming five private and public beacon networks. The paper discusses what Smart Tourism is, how to measure customer experience and the various phases a tourist goes through (anticipatory, planning, experiential, reflection).

69,000 people, 3% of all SAIL visitors, used the app and of these 47% had their Bluetooth turned on. Nevertheless, this allowed the organisers to track visitors’ behavior and manage visitor flows. It was the end user features of the app/system that were less utilised than they could have been.

The paper discusses visitors’ perceived loss of privacy when installing the app. The solution is seen to be to ensure that users perceive the provision of their data/location as a fair deal to receiving information. Another issue is being careful when sending out push notifications as psychological factors can have big influence on customers’ reaction to them. Another issue discussed is the differing interests of the developers, sponsors and SAIL organisers when creating the app.

Success in using beacons and apps is tied to how much information visitors have on the possibilities and benefits in installing and using (turning Bluetooth on) the app. As the paper says:

“Organisers need to provide extensive information about the technology and the proper usage of it in order to profit from the maximum services that the apps offer.”

Match Use of Beacons to Organisations’ Goals

As we have previously mentioned, we believe too many companies are chasing the beacon retail marketing bandwagon when there are more compelling uses for beacons. These other uses also often have much less commercial competition. Think outside the current common usecases. Instead, invent new uses that better match organisations’ goals.

One such example is mentioned in the recent article Can Big Data Make for Better Exhibitions? Unlike the run of the mill, “let’s tag items and show information on them”, The Art Institute of Chicago uses beacons to create heat maps, travel paths and derive dwell times to determine which parts of the museum people really want to see. The museum uses beacons for analytics. Promoting popular parts of the museum brought them an uplift in paid attendance from $14.8 million to $19.9 million.

This success is based on concentrating on the museum’s real need of more income.

Learnings from Using iBeacons in Wales’ Oldest Gallery

There’s a useful article on the Nesta site on Using Proximity Technology to Enhance the Gallery Experience.

Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw in Llanbedrog on the Llyn Peninsula is Wales’ oldest art gallery. They created a mobile app that uses iBeacons to deliver content to gallery visitors.

They have some insights:

  • They found that audio-only content was best so as not to distract from the art itself.
  • Users were most interested in content presented by the artists themselves rather than other commentators.
  • Positioning the beacons was important. Planning and positioning of beacons was vital in ensuring a glitch-free experience.

Our experience of using beacons in art galleries shows that, as with Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw findings, most problems occur when beacon transmissions overlap. You have to fine tune beacon power and/or trigger on specific ranges in order to prevent false triggering or ‘bouncing’ between exhibits when the user hasn’t even moved. Apps can also be set to ignore multiple triggers that happen within a very short time.