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Bluetooth Beacons Bring Elvis Back to Graceland

Visitors to the King of Rock and Roll's home are issued iPads that display beacon-triggered photos, videos and other content application to each location within the mansion.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 17, 2014

Graceland, the 13.8-acre estate in Memphis that was home to Elvis Presley and is now a tourist attraction, has begun using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons to bring location-based data to visitors on an Apple iPad provided as they begin the tour. With the solution in place, users can now view videos and images related to each room or location at the museum. Since the system was launched last month, the self-guided tour offers content never before available, such as pictures of Elvis in each location at which a visitor is standing, as well as a grocery list displayed in the kitchen.

Graceland opened to the public in 1982. During its first decade of operation, the estate's staff escorted visitors through the mansion on guided tours. In the mid-1990s, Graceland began moving away from live tour guides by offering a digital audio player that visitors could carry with them during a self-guided tour, in order to learn about the mansion and Elvis. However, the museum sought a way to make the tour more personal for fans interested in connecting with the King. Numerous videos and pictures had been taken inside and around the house during Presley's lifetime, and Graceland began considering technology that could deliver that media to visitors as they moved around the site.

With the launching of the beacon technology, says Kevin Kern, Graceland's director of public relations, the museum not only provides the same content supplied by the digital audio player, but also offers supplemental content based on a visitor's location, as determined via the beacon transmissions.

Graceland installed approximately 50 battery-powered beacons in and around the mansion, each linked to content specific to its room or location. The museum tested a variety of BLE beacons before selecting the make and model of device now being used. Kern declines, however, to indicate which make and model were chosen.

Before taking a tour, a visitor receives an iPad, along with the option of providing his or her e-mail address, which would allow that individual to receive content about the museum and its exhibits at future times. When the tablet is taken into a room during the tour, it receives the ID number transmitted by the beacon installed in that part of the house, and software provided by Unified Field displays relevant content, such as a 360-degree image of the room with arrows and prompts. The user can then select one or more of the prompts to view video, photographs or other content, which could include a photo of Presley sitting on the couch in the same room in which the individual is standing, or movie footage of the performer filmed in the dining room.

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