Beacons as a Building Block for Digitization
Originally, Beacons were developed as iBeacons by Apple to provide customers with information and offers via the app at the point-of-sale on their iPhone. Today, beacons can trigger much more than just a news push on a smartphone. Beacons uniquely identify objects or persons just like places. The information transmitted by Beacons via Bluetooth Low Energy (short: BLE, also known as Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth 4.0) range from a unique identification via a URL to sensory data such as temperature or acceleration.
At prices from about 5 € to 20 € (state 10/2015) and a lifespan of several months up to several years, they are not necessarily disposable items, but nevertheless offer a cost-effective way to digitize processes in the company.
As a Fraunhofer Institute, we are naturally working on the development of innovative solutions based on new technologies. The growing range of available products and the continuous development of the Beacon technology are constantly opening up new application possibilities.
Our solutions range from simple presence detection to complex, cloud-based information systems that use Beacons for activity and context detection.
Because Beacons communicate via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), an application also requires (in addition to the Beacons) a terminal that can receive BLE messages. These are all terminals that support Bluetooth 4.0. These include, in particular, iPhones from the version 4S and later, iPads as well as end devices with Android operating system from version 4.3 upwards, but also micro-computers such as Intel Edison.
For these terminals, there can be developed apps that receive and respond to Beacon signals. Simple reactions are displaying information or sending messages.
An increase in complexity constitutes a transfer of information into a backend in the cloud. This can be an independent application, which e. g. records and evaluates the transmitted information. Examples are CRM or CMS solutions. Another possibility is the connection to existing enterprise applications. Examples are ERP or fleet management systems.
Even more flexibility is provided by the use of programmable microcontrollers or microcomputers with a BLE component as mobile devices. They usually have a smaller form factor and are therefore better suited for mounting e.g. in vehicles. On the other hand, they generally offer different interfaces for connecting sensors and actuators.
A small section of application scenarios is described below to provide suggestions for further applications.
Application Scenario work-integrated Learning
Within the framework of the BMBF collaborative project HANDELkompetent (www.handelkompetent.de), we use Beacons to recognize learning locations in trading companies. Typical learning places are the office, the sales and exhibition space as well as the warehouse. Each learning location has characteristic properties that influence the choice of learning contents as well as their presentation. The tablet PCs used as learning media recognize the learning context of a learner by means of the Beacons and provide learning content in a situation-adaptive manner.
Application Scenario Visitor Info
Exhibits, posters etc. are equipped with Beacons. Visitors can locally or in advance download a visitor app from the company's website. When visiting, the visitor app recognizes the respective Beacon and calls the relevant information via the corresponding URL.
Application Scenario Transport Monitoring
Beacons loaded transport goods (e. g. pallets) are captured during loading. During the transport, the temperature and acceleration values are monitored. Notifications are automatically sent if default values are violated. If the Beacon is removed from the monitoring area during unloading of the transported goods, this event is also detected and registered.