Transport Information System Learnings

There’s a recent article on ZDNet on Smartphones, Bluetooth beacons: The pairing that could help the blind catch the right bus. After weeks of testing, the city of Strasbourg in France is now ready to rollout a smartphone-based transport information system. 1,400 beacons at libraries, tourist spots and bus stops allow users to interact with city locations on their smartphones.

Two interesting issues with the initial trial were:

  • Slow detection time meant users at bus stops were being notified too late
  • Placing beacons behind the windscreens of busses, the 80m range wasn’t sufficient

While the article doesn’t explain how the slow detection time was solved we suspect it had something to do with the app having to connect to get information. This information might have been bus information or something to do with the beacon platform. Caching information or turning off advanced functionality that required the app to connect will have solved the problem. Alternatively, it could have been that the time between beacon advertising was too long preventing it from being picked up quickly by the app.

The 80m range was solved by configuring the beacons to be more powerful and transmit to 160 meters. Unless the beacon was already transmitting at less than normal (0dBm) power it wouldn’t have been possible to double the range by re-configuring the power. Most beacons go up to +4dBm which, while providing over double the power, wouldn’t have doubled the range. It’s more likely they had to use a different beacon with integrated power amplifier such as those in our Ultra Long Range.