Sensing the opportunities with next-generation IoT beacon technology


Beacons have so far been a slow-burn technology. It was back in 2009 when SIG announced Bluetooth version 4.0, which included Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), the basis of beacon technology although it took another four years to become mainstream. This came in 2013 with Apple announcing iBeacons at its developer conference. Android standardisation took longer, and it was not until July 2015 that Google released Eddystone. Google is however constantly expanding its capabilities, the most recent iteration coming with an update to Google Nearby on the 9th June 2016.

At their most basic, Beacons are battery-powered transmitters of BLE radio signals that can be picked up by smartphones and are usually used to initiate proximity-based notifications or giving context to a mobile app. This has evolved to become more useful by connecting them to an internet-connected gateway and allowing data to be stored by the gateway and retransmitted to remote servers. In sectors such as retail, knowing who your customers are, how often they visit and what they are purchasing is all vital information in the struggle to compete with their internet rivals.

The next generation of beacons now add even more capabilities to the humble battery-powered beacon in the form of sensors. Now, scenarios can be programmed into the beacons so they start transmitting when certain sensory conditions are met or the beacons can periodically transmit the detected sensor data.

Adding capabilities with sensors

By using sensors, the previously simple beacon can now start adding value and be extended into further use-cases. There are now a number of common sensors that can be mounted directly onto the circuit board of a beacon, and combined with a basic processor and a small amount of on-board memory, they open up some interesting avenues for beacons-with-sensors.

Temperature: A thermometer on-board a low-powered beacon can act as an early warning system for any situation where temperature sensitivity is key. Examples may include the refrigeration unit storing fresh goods in grocery, if the power fails and it starts warming up, the battery powered beacon can provide an early warning system before the food spoils. By utilising the internet gateway, malfunctions or poor performance alerts can be automatically sent to maintenance companies.

Light: A light sensor can be utilised in many ways, but the simplest is the sleep-when-dark mode in order to preserve battery life. It can also be used as a counter, such as detecting when a cupboard door is opened or a light is switched on.

Vibration & accelerometer: Being able to check for movement is useful in a security situation, detecting a movement or a forced entry. When combined with another magnetic latch sensor, installed on doors or windows, it makes a low-cost internet-enable security system with batteries that last for years.

Battery life is key

The key advantage of beacons is their prolific battery life. With sensible use of sleep cycles, either using a sensor to wake up the device or by using an embedded real-time clock module, and by only transmitting data when absolutely necessary or relevant, battery life can be measured in years, even when using a simple coin-type battery.

Internet of Beacons

One limitation of Internet of Things devices is that they often need to be mains powered and that limits where they can be located. By using beacons which communicate to an internet-enabled gateway, the tiny battery-powered devices can be placed in multiple hard-to-reach locations but still communicate to the wider world. This adds to the versatility of the devices allowing real-time and remote analytics possible.

With Gartner predicting that there will be 20.8 billion connected ‘things’ by 2020, low powered, low cost internet-connected beacons are going to become a big part of the internet of things in the future. With multiple sensors, these beacons become more useful than ever.

Read more: Netclearance launches new BLE device featuring five sensors in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their IoT use-cases? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.

The show is co-located with the AI & Big Data Expo, Cyber Security & Cloud Expo and Blockchain Expo so you can explore the entire ecosystem in one place.

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