We have a re-implemented and updated our solutions directory to remove old dead links, include new solutions and make the site more mobile friendly. The directory lists 3rd party solutions that use generic beacons.
There are sections for marketing/retail, industry/logistics, building/staff, visitor spaces, transportation, education and personal.
Tracking things and/or people makes organisations more efficient through enhanced productivity. Most organisations want to improve a specific problem in one of the following areas:
Stock Control – Knowing how much you have, where, without any human checking
Finding Items – Picking items without time-consuming manual searching
Safety & Security – Knowing when assets move, go missing, are dropped or crashed into
Process Efficiency – Preventing human error of manual audits, knowing an expensive asset is being fully utilised, providing real time workplace instructions
Having solved a problem, it’s often the case that the act of digitisation allows other problems to be identified and also solved.
There are many ways to track assets using beacons. Beacons can be put on assets and detected by smartphones, Bluetooth gateways, Bluetooth mesh, or other Bluetooth LE devices such as single board computers. Alternatively, beacons can be fixed and the detecting device(s) can move. Software can be in the detecting devices and/or at a server receiving data from the detecting devices. It’s also possible to use a real time locating system (RTLS) to map the positions of assets.
The optimum solution depends on your situation and requirements. Here are some aspects to think about that will determine the optimum solution:
What’s the size of area(s) and sub-areas (rooms, zones) you need to cover and is this outside?
What’s the physical makeup of the areas (walls, racking) and their composition?
What’s the electrical infrastructure (power, WiFi and Ethernet availability) and can this be upgraded?
What assets need to be tracked?
What attributes of assets need to be tracked (just location or sensor data as well?)
How many need to be tracked?
How many are in the same place, at the same time?
How often do the assets move?
How accurate do you need the locating?
How up to date do you need the tracking?
Who needs to do the tracking, from where?
How many people need to do the tracking simultaneously?
What kinds of information/report do you require and what’s the desired method of receiving?
We see some companies only after they have gone a long way down a particular road only to discover they made a big mistake early on. It might be, for example, they have heavily committed to the wrong beacon, wrong platform or have assumed something on one of the mobile platforms. They didn’t do their research. Often we can help them get on the right track but sometimes not.
At the other end of the research scale we have other companies who ask us “Will beacons work in an xyz environment?” where xyz has ranged, for example, from underground on the tube for the police to inside cars for a car retailer. Taking this further, we also get many, what we call, “armchair entrepreneurs” who want to work everything out before even looking at a beacon.
While we have a lot of expertise and provide advice through consultancy, it’s often the case that there are some aspects that are unknown until things are tried for real in the actual environment. Wireless solutions can be very fickle.
A lot can be learned about beacons, Bluetooth and the environment by buying one inexpensive beacon and trying things out. In the case of software, try implementing a thin slice through the proposed system touching on the perceived risky or unknown areas. Experiment before committing. Don’t go all in buying thousands of beacons and commissioning full custom software until you are confident things will work.
There’s a trend for beacons becoming parts of existing systems rather than being the main reason for having a system. The two way radio admin system (from Motorola) was one of the early examples. Newer examples are smart desk/meeting room systems, BlindSquare for navigation and (Cisco Meraki) WiFi access points.
Middleware used to create systems is also increasingly including support for beacons. An example is IBM’s MobileFirst Foundation service that has recently provided for beacons via a MobileFirst Adapter. This allows you to easily use beacons within mobile apps with data being stored in the IBM Cloud.
In recent years there has been a movement towards software being provided “as a service” whether supplied free to induce users to buy/use other services/products or via a subscription model. The software provider usually gains through having a long term revenue stream. Companies gain easy access to ready-made and managed solutions to their problems. It all sounds perfect. However, there are risks in using Software as a Service (SaaS) that need to be understood and managed.
Creating an app or platform that integrates a 3rd party SaaS API ties you to that platform. If the platform is discontinued you have the complex task of re-writing to use the new API and migrating existing data. If there’s no similar alternative, you are faced with implementing the SaaS provided service for yourself.
Most SaaS providers are VC funded which means they tend to initially give away their APIs for free or at low cost to attract customers. Once shareholders start to want to see revenue, monthly fees increase. We are already seeing this with many beacon platform providers. Once Angel or VC funding runs out, platforms can disappear. A high profile example in the beacon ecosystem at the moment is Onyx.
So what can you do? The first thing is do your due diligence. Is the company providing the SaaS you are considering likely to be around for the lifetime of your project? Is the company (like Google) renowned for deprecating services? Do you really need all the SaaS functionality or could you make do with a simpler developed or open source solution? Might you be able to use the SaaS for a proof of concept or minimum viable product (MVP) and plan to move to a developed solution?
There’s often the requirement to show data triggered by beacons detected by iOS and Android apps. There are many SaaS subscription systems to do this for you but what if you want to host the data yourself or have a large number of beacons where SaaS solutions aren’t economically viable?
You could create your own CMS. However, take a look at SBCMS. SMCMS provides a simple open source CMS that can be hosted on your own server or automatically on a Heroku cloud server instance.
The majority of beacon-based solutions are app-based and trigger information to be displayed to the user in response to being near specific beacons. If you read many platform provider sites you might think that’s all beacons can do. However, beacons are a technology and not solution. Beacons provide for many types of solution.
Another type of solution is the accounting for things (with beacons attached) within a larger system. Examples include class registration, stock checking, asset tracking, security and lone worker positioning. In these cases the thing that detects beacons can be can be an app or hardware.
The app can be relatively simple and scan for particular beacons and save information to a file and/or send them on to server. We recently implemented such a system for Malvern Instruments, with custom pre-configured beacons, that also allows search for particular ‘lost’ beacons:
In the cases where the beacon detection doesn’t or shouldn’t move around, it’s possible to use gateways to forward on detected beacon data to a server.
It’s surprising how many enquiries we get for complete solutions that don’t exist yet. While we have a solutions directory, most current solutions tend to be retail marketing related. In most cases the people enquiring don’t have the budget for a custom solution. One insight we have gained from enquirers is that there’s plenty of scope for new innovative solutions based on beacons for re-selling to others. However, creating new systems based predominantly on beacons is costly and risky.
There’s also the possibility for existing tried and tested systems to become beacon-enabled. The initial systems we are finding doing this at the moment are security related. However, almost all enterprise systems could benefit from extra features provided by beacons. Doing so is less risky and more likely to be successful as it builds on something that’s already being used.
We have received so many enquiries as to whether we know of Beacon software solutions for specific tasks that we have decided to start a Beacon Solutions Directory.
We have listed solutions that work with generic iBeacon and Eddystone beacons and implemented as web platforms or stand alone mobile apps. We are continually adding solutions so check back regularly to discover new solution providers.
If you know of a solution we haven’t listed or your company provides a solution, please contact us to get added. Solution providers linking back to us will be featured on the front page of the directory.