Bluetooth Beacons in Factories, IoT and Industry 4.0

McKinsey has a useful chart where they assess the potential impact of the IoT by segment:

It can be seen that ‘Factory’ has the greatest potential. This links with ‘Industry 4.0‘, the current trend for more automation and data exchange in manufacturing with the aim of significantly improving efficiency. But what does this mean in practice and what are challenges? Can these be solved with Bluetooth beacons?

We have learnt that while just about every industry client has different needs, all solutions involve context and location. Context is sensing, while location is where the sensing occurs.

Requirements we have experienced range from being able to pick up documents for particular machinery through to actual sensing such as detecting vibration is within (safety) bounds for ‘aggressive’ equipment. We have also seen the requirement for matching workers with workstations and jobs as well as the tracking of workers, tools, pallets, parts and fabrications. There’s also the need for real-time overviews for short term safety and efficiency management, the same longer term data also being used for process improvement and planning.

So why beacons?

  1. Low power. Sensors need to have a long life because replacing them or their batteries requires human effort and they are sometimes placed in normally inaccessible and dangerous areas. Beacons are ideal for this because some have up to 5+ years battery life and others can be permanently powered.
  2. Sensing. Various off the shelf sensor beacons are available. Custom variants are possible to sense industry specific metrics.
  3. Connectivity. Several gateways are available to connect to WiFi. Alternatively, it’s possible to use smartphones or small single board computers as gateways. There’s a trend for ‘Fog’ or ‘Edge’ gateways that only send pertinent data on to the cloud and can provide direct alerts quicker than being dependent on the latency of the cloud.
  4. Cloud management. Software such as our BeaconRTLS platform allows for the management and visualisation of sensors.
  5. Security. Beacon devices are password protected and the gateway to cloud communication is protected using standard Internet protocols.
  6. IoT needs to be made easy. This is BeaconZone’s role. As we mentioned, with the IoT every client has different needs. We bring together ready-made hardware and software components so that they can be dovetailed to create solutions.

Read about using Beacons in Industry and the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR)

Read about BluetoothLocationEngine™

New Data Logger Beacon in Stock

We have the new iB004-PLUS SHT Logger beacon in stock. It stores up to 200 temperature and humidity data over a user defined period of 1 to 120 minutes.

As with the non-logging iB004-PLUS, it has a large battery and sends the battery level in the advertising data. The current temperature and humidity can also be extracted from the advertising data without connecting to the beacon.

Machine Monitoring Using Bluetooth Beacon Sensors

There’s a new article at RFID Journal BLE Eavesdrops on Machine Health With Augury System that describes how Bluetooth LE sensors can be used to monitor machine health. Such systems can be used to detect when machines have been working, when they weren’t working and the ‘big data’ can sometimes be used to predict failure. Such events can trigger real-time alerts.

This scenario is an example of Beacon Proximity and Sensing for the Internet of Things (IoT). This isn’t limited to monitoring machines. It can be used to monitor people, animals, plants, stock assets or just about anything.

Google’s Proximity Beacon API

Most beacon platforms are fairly limited in that they are designed around retail marketing scenarios. If you are creating a non-retail marketing solution you might want to look into Google’s little publicised Proximity Beacon API. It allows you to register beacons and have arbitrary data, called attachments, associated with them. What’s more, it supports the registration of iBeacon as well as Eddystone beacons and you can use it free of charge.

The usual usecase is setup via Google’s console followed by update from apps detecting beacons. Android and iOS example are available.

It’s not always apps that are used to detect beacons. For example, you might have a single board computer such as the Raspberry Pi or Bluetooth-WiFi gateway detecting beacons and a web front end managing and monitoring the beacons. Google also provides example scripts that show how other entities can be used to register, list and filter beacons. Alternatively, other entities might even call these scripts.

The storing of arbitrary data allows the proximity Beacon API to be used for scenarios beyond retail marketing such as sensing with sensor beacons and real time locating (RTLS).

Bluetooth Power Consumption in Phones

A growing use of beacons is for continually monitoring using sensor beacons. However, one concern is how continually reading a Bluetooth sensor beacon might affect phone battery life.

There’s a recent research paper by Kleomenis Katevas, Hamed Haddadi and Laurissa Tokarchuk of Queen Mary University of London, UK on Power use : SensingKit: Evaluating the Sensor Power Consumption in iOS devices. It looks into Bluetooth beacon (phone) power use and, as a baseline, compares this to phone battery power use by sensors in the phone. They evaluated beacon broadcasting and scanning modes separately and together.

Very few scenarios use the phone to broadcast so the pink dotted line probably has less relevance. Looking at the scanning test it can be seen that it consumes power of the same order of magnitude as other sensors in the phone itself. Bluetooth LE scanning isn’t especially power hungry. Nevertheless, the 25hrs hours operation time on battery might be a limitation for most sensing scenarios.

An omission in these tests is that they only considered scanning rather than connecting. Some beacons need to be connected to via Bluetooth GATT, to obtain sensor data, that uses more phone battery power because it requires the phone to transmit to the beacon instead of just listening to the advertising scan data.

In practice, sensing projects are often better served by using a WiFi gateway or a phone/tablet permanently plugged in rather than a user’s battery-powered phone. This allows the device receiving sensor data to be mains powered removing concerns regarding device power use.

New INGICS Bluetooth Sensor Beacons

We have some new INGICS Sensor beacons in stock.

These are slightly different to our other beacons in that they don’t transmit iBeacon or Eddystone. Instead the Bluetooth advertising is wholly used for sensor and battery information. Hence, they are more suitable for sensing, security and IoT applications rather than retail-marketing type scenarios.

There are 4 models:
iBS01G – movement/fall sensor
iBS01H – magnetic (hall) sensor
iBS01RG – (raw) accelerometer sensor
iBS01T – temperature and humidity sensor

ibs01t_smaller

They derive power from 2xCR2032 or via a micro USB smartphone charger (not supplied). They all also have a detectable button press. While the manufacturer’s app shows the sensor data, you will probably need a custom app or gateway to scan and use the advertising data.

Beacons and the IoT Value Chain

There’s a thought provoking article at the news arm of the GSMA, Mobile World Live. It quotes Nokia who think that applications are set to dominate the IoT value chain.

This isn’t applications, as in apps, but platforms, systems (and sometimes controlling apps) that create ecosystems for specific vertical needs. Nokia said:

It’s not the iPhone selling at $800 that’s going to make IoT grow, it’s going to be the devices and sensors that are sub-$10

Today’s sensor beacons are early devices upon which we can start building these IoT ecosystem applications.

New ASensor Beacon

We have the new ASensor beacon in stock. This is our smallest sensor beacon measuring only 37.3mm x 37.3mm x 7mm and it uses the power efficient Dialog DA14580 that gives up to 1.5 years from a CR2025 battery.

The beacon supports iBeacon, Eddystone or sensor advertising. For sensor mode, the temperature, acceleration and battery level are in the advertising data.

asensor_smallerasensor_pcb_smaller

New Ruuvitag Sensor Beacon

There’s an interesting new sensor beacon at Ruuvitag.  It provides temperature, humidity, air pressure and acceleration and will be coming soon to kickstarter.

ruuvi

At first sight it doesn’t provide that much more than standard sensor beacons. However, the differentiating factor is that this beacon is open source.

This means that the beacon is not just configurable but also fully user-reprogrammable. For example, you can run proprietary protocols and form mesh networks. The open hardware and software design to allows adaptation for your proprietary solution. Open hardware and software also reduces the risk should you base your system on it and Ruuvitag (the company) no longer support it.

iB004 PLUS Sensor Beacon Available

We now have a limited number of iB004 PLUS beacons in stock with an additional SHT20 temperature/humidity sensor. The iB004 is one of the most commonly used (and re-branded) beacons and the ‘PLUS’ part means it has a larger CR2477 battery rather than the CR2450 in the original iB004. The larger battery means there’s a longer 100m (vs 70m) range and longer battery life.

ib004plus-temp_smaller

The temperature/humidity version has a small hole in the top to allow the environment, external to the case, to be sensed.