The Future of Theatre Using iBeacons

Theatre and performing arts are currently going through a crisis as theatres remain closed but are still experiencing ongoing costs with no income. Performers are juggling new jobs to make ends meet. In the UK alone there’s a projected £74bn drop in revenue for the creative industries and the loss of 400,000 jobs. There’s a growing realisation that the Covid pandemic is going to be with us for a long time. Even when there’s a vaccine, it will take a long time to manufacture, only provide for gradual vaccination and probably require seasonal re-vaccination much like flu.

With this in mind, once theatres are allowed to re-open, they will have to adapt to the new normal. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s pilot performances are leading the way with improvements in hygiene, social distancing, temperature testing, mandatory face masks and special anti-viral sprays.

The Grand Theatre in Blackpool has a new article on the Future of Theatre In A Digital World. It describes new innovations that will improve the customer journey as well as provide for more automated contact-less engagement required for coping with the Covid crisis.

The aim is to integrate all systems to improve the customer experience, raise more online reviews and gain customer feedback. This starts with smart booking of theatre tickets through smartphones, watches and home speakers. Tickets reside on your smartphone with associated useful information such as casting biographies, announcements, behind the scenes photos/videos, reviews, cast introductions, offers and vouchers. This will allow for faster returns and seating updates. eVouchers allow contactless use of entry gates, concession areas, car parking passes, public transport tickets and pre-paid taxis.

iBeacon Theatre Bar Congestion
Theatre bar congestion

Bluetooth iBeacons allow for location based:

  • Checking in
  • Provision of information such as waiting times, best bars to head for and where to go for personal or accessibility assistance
  • Offering of vouchers based on previous spending habits
  • Messaging to advise turning down phone when seated, that might even be done automatically
  • When seated, promoting of upcoming productions with one click booking

Some of these things are starting to happen at theatres like the UK’s Blackpool Grand. The contact-less aspects are likely to be accelerated due to the Covid crisis.

What is Bluetooth LINE Service Advertising?

We recently started selling beacons that can advertise LINE. This post explains LINE advertising with information on the packet format.

LINE Beacons are used with the LINE messenger service that allows users to send text, video, and voice messages on smartphones and the PC. It’s currently available in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia. LINE have iOS and Android developer APIs that allow you to hook into the LINE service and include LINE services in your app. The LINE beacon allows your LINE code, called a bot, to receive beacon webhook events whenever a LINE user enters the proximity of a beacon. The beacons allow you to customise your bot app to interact with users in specific contexts. There’s also a beacon banner feature, available for corporate users, that causes a banner to appear in the LINE messenger app when it comes close to a LINE beacon.

LINE Bluetooth Advertising
LINE Bluetooth Advertising

Unlike iBeacon, LINE Beacon packets have a secure message field to prevent packet tampering and replay attacks. The secure data is 7 bytes long containing a message authentication code, timestamp and battery level. Secure messages are sent to the LINE platform for verification.

Generating LINE advertising
Generating LINE Advertising

LINE recommend LINE beacon packets be sent at a very high rate of every 152ms. In addition, LINE recommend advertising iBeacon (UUID D0D2CE24-9EFC-11E5-82C4-1C6A7A17EF38, Major 0x4C49, Mino 0x4E45) to notify iOS devices that the LINE Beacon device is nearby. This is because an iOS app can only see iBeacons when in background and LINE beacons can’t wake an app.

We observe that the high advertising rate and concurrent iBeacon advertising aren’t battery friendly and the beacon battery isn’t going to last long.

There’s more information on the LINE developer site on using beacons and the LINE packet format.

Bluetooth Beacons getting COVID-19 Impacted Business Back on Track

It has been an enormously challenging time for so many organisations during the COVID-19 lockdown. Many are now scrambling to implement new measures within their business to help safeguard workers health and avoid further disruption and shutdowns.

With Governments worldwide issuing and updating guidance on a regular basis, many businesses are turning to technology experts for practical easy to implement solutions in the longer term fight against the virus.

In recent years, Bluetooth Beacon technologies have been gaining ground in many industries, with the global Beacon Technology market projected to reach USD 1249 million by 2026, at a CAGR of 25.8% during 2021-2026. The technology, in its simplicity, can be deployed in numerous and varied business applications, most recently in supporting social distancing and other compliance measures.

Here, we learn how Bluetooth Beacon technologies, such as BeaconZone CATT, are being deployed to safeguard the health and wellbeing of both employees and customers, and can help get your business back on track.

The Challenge

SocialDistancing

All employers have a duty of care to ensure their workplace is safe for workers to return to, by mitigating risks and implementing Government issued COVID-19 guidance.
Each business will encounter its own challenges in meeting both current requirements and potential needs for renewed restrictions and lockdowns, dependent on business environments, employee numbers, industry and activities. This requires, in many instances, huge shifts in business thinking, models and processes.

There is no doubt that being flexible and open to new ways of working will help make such changes more successful. As well as stringent cleaning and hygiene measures, social distancing is perhaps the biggest challenge, requiring behavioural as well as practical changes and consideration across all aspects of your business.

Installing screens and barriers to physically separate people has its merits but is not, in many circumstances practical, which is why many employers and organisations are turning to alert, track and trace technologies for help.

As well as the extensive guides provided by Government, The UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CPID) have several useful tools and detailed guidance to help support your returning to workplace needs.

Bluetooth Beacons to the Rescue

Bluetooth beacon technologies, already widely used in many business applications, from logistics and asset management to location-based gaming, marketing and events management, temperature and humidity monitoring and many more, are a game changer in supporting businesses in their fight against COVID-19, including:

  • Social Distancing:  Standalone social distancing devices and tracking systems,  such as BeaconZone CATT, provide an easy to implement and practical solution to help and remind your workers to retain social distancing with a range of wearables, including wristbands and lanyards that flash and vibrate when social distancing is infringed. Data collected and synced through management stations empower your managers to effectively monitor, report and resolve repeated infringements and manage and mitigate further risks and non-compliance.
  • Staff Locating:  Systems such as BeaconRTLS™, previously mainly used in factories and warehouses, are now being used more in COVID-19 Risk Assessments to determine the location of staff and occupancy of buildings. What might have seemed to be an invasion of privacy is now seen as something desirable to help ensure the safety of workers and audit compliance to government and industry-specific guidelines.
  • Lone Working: There has been an increase in the use of beacons providing touch-free ‘check-in’ for workers and for SOS. This includes use of gateways to automatically know when a worker has been at a specific locations, full locating systems and control centre systems such as TRBOnet. These systems allow a button to be pressed by the worker when, for example, there’s a medical emergency, threat to life or in customer facing scenarios, a potentially abusive situation. Such systems assist in complying with government lone worker regulations as well as provide peace of mind for both the employee as well as the employer.
SocialDistancingRestaurants
  • Process Change:  As many businesses are reviewing and implementing new processes to safeguard the safety of their workers and customers, finding ways to make these more onerous tasks more efficient will be critical to business success. A great example is the huge challenges the hospitality industry is facing with cafes and restaurants increasingly adopting beacon technology to identify tables for use in app-based ordering of food.

Benefits of Beacons

Beacon CATT is a standalone Bluetooth solution which can be easily deployed and is scalable for your business. It has been designed to be a one-off investment and requires no additional hardware or WiFi, Ethernet or cellular connection. You can be assured that performance is reliable and data is secured within your own business with ongoing support and help form our expert advisors.

Our solutions are increasing in demand and helping organisations get back to business post COVID-19 lockdown, including:

  • Enhancing protection against COVID-19
  • Giving workers confidence in workplace safety
  • Restoring business productivity and continuity
  • Being agile to changing compliance needs
  • Reducing breaches and chance of shutdowns

Tasked with securing social distancing measures within your organisation? Learn more and try our Evaluation Starter Kit NOW!

New AprilBrother Beacons in Stock

We have five new AprilBrother models in stock:

The new EEK-N supports iBeacon, Eddystone and is the first beacon we have stocked that supports the Bluetooth LE Line protocol.

The USB Beacon 306 is one of the few USB beacon that have an external antenna that provides for a longer range up to 100m.

The ABN05 is the smallest wearable iBeacon we have seen with a size of 28.5mm x 28.5mm x 9mm.

The Road Stud is the first rugged cats-eye type beacon. It can withstand a weight of up to 10 tons. It isn’t restricted to use on roads and can instead be used in rough situations, for example, tracking construction site toolboxes.

View All Beacons

The Bluetooth Industry Report

When using a technology such as Bluetooth LE, it’s wise to look wider and keep up to date with the latest industry news. Mohammad Afaneh of Novelbits has a weekly Bluetooth Industry Report with news on new products, solutions and articles.

Novelbits also provide courses and technical services. Their blog has Introductions to Bluetooth Low Energy, Bluetooth Mesh and analysis of specific devices.

4 Ways Beacons are Being Used to Fight the Covid Pandemic

  • Staff Locating – While our BeaconRTLS™ was previously mainly used in factories and warehouses, it is now being used more to determine the location of staff and occupancy of buildings. What might have seemed to be an invasion of privacy is now seen as something desirable to help ensure the safety of workers and audit compliance to industry-specific guidelines.
  • Lone Working – There has been an increase in the use of beacons providing touch-free ‘check-in’ for workers and for SOS.
  • Cafes and Restaurants – Beacons are increasingly being used to identify tables for use in app-based ordering of food.

Farm Management with Bluetooth Sensors

There’s new research by the Universities of Salento Italy and Panamericana Mexico on the Development of Sensors-Based Agri-Food Traceability System Remotely Managed by a Software Platform for Optimized Farm Management.

It demonstrates the use of IoT to revolutionise farming. A system was implemented to provide for:

  • Optimum water and fertiliser use
  • Better quality and yield of crops
  • Increased safety
  • Reduction in production costs
  • Reduction in negative impacts on the health and environment
  • Smart traceability

Sensors allow calibration of irrigation and fertilisation based on crop type, growth phase, soil and environmental conditions. The traceability allows monitoring of the movements of food products from the field, through storage to end consumers.

Bluetooth LE sensor tags are used for monitoring conditions during storage and transportation so as to assess freshness, integrity, as well as to provide for traceability.

The system enables enables management strategies that anticipate or delay crop collection, fine tuning the irrigation/fertilisation timing based on customers’ requests. This allows farmers to achieve economic benefits and reduce agri-food waste.

Read about Beacon Proximity and Sensing for the Internet of Things (IoT)

Bluetooth Standards Pros and Cons

Here at BeaconZone we create solutions based on products that use Bluetooth LE. The Bluetooth standards are created and maintained by the Bluetooth SIG. This post briefly explores the advantages and disadvantages of such standards and the opportunities and risks of going off-piste using 3rd party wireless standards.

The main advantage of the Bluetooth LE standard is interoperability. We can use beacons, sensor beacons, smartphones, gateways, single board computers such as the Raspberry Pi, laptops and desktops in solutions and be sure they can communicate using Bluetooth LE. More specifically, we can use the Bluetooth APIs on these platforms and they speak a common language and ‘just work’. Bluetooth has also recently introduced standards on top of the Bluetooth LE standard that provide for mesh networking and angle based location.

The Bluetooth LE standard has caused the ecosystem of System on a Chip (SoC) vendors such as Texas Instruments, Nordic Semiconductor and Dialog Semiconductor to create inexpensive sub-systems and SDKs that simplify implementing new products based on the standards. This, in turn, has created a large variety of devices that can talk to each other even though they use hardware from different vendors. The variety of devices has increased competition, keeping device prices down.

The problem with standards is that they evolve very slowly and might not be optimal for specific situations. This creates an opportunity for 3rd parties to create alternative wireless solutions such as Ultra Wideband (UWB) devices, custom mesh networking and custom location schemes that can provide better performance in aspects such as accuracy, physical range and battery life. These custom products cost more because they are more involved to create/manufacture and their unique features can command a higher price. However, there’s the risk that if/when the companies producing these products go out of business, your solution will become end-of-life with no second sourcing. This is a particular risk when the product involves some sort of software as a service (SAAS), irrespective of standards.

Choosing a wireless technology for your solution involves a trade off between performance, cost and risk. It’s wise to first seek a standards-based and stand-alone (not SAAS) approach and only deviate if you find what you need to do isn’t served by available solutions.

New Bluetooth Beacons

We have two new beacons in stock:

The S1 is a USB beacon advertising iBeacon, Eddystone UID and Eddystone URL.

The H1 is a waterproof, rechargeable wristband beacon advertising iBeacon, Eddystone UID and Eddystone URL. It also has an accelerometer that can be used to provide for motion triggered broadcast. The front has a capacitive button that can be used to turn on/off or to only advertise when the button is pressed.

Both have the rare facility to send custom Bluetooth LE advertising that some customers use when they don’t want their beacons to show up other systems.

View All Bluetooth Beacons

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™