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At Nashville's Music City Center, Beacons Help Visitors Find Their Way
The city's vast convention center has deployed a Bluetooth beacon solution, developed by Vanderbilt University researchers, that keeps things moving.
Nov 24, 2014—
Beginning last week, visitors to the Music City Center in Nashville, Tenn., no longer need to look at signage or maps to navigate their way around the 1.2-million-square-foot convention complex. Instead, they can simply glace at an app running on their Android or iOS device to identify where they are, and to view directions to reach their chosen destination, along with pictures of what the route should look like along the way.
The solution uses data transmitted by 64 Bluetooth beacons installed throughout the site, developed by Jules White, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Vanderbilt University, as well as an associate named Yu Sun and some of White's software engineering students. Following beta-testing of the beacon-based solution at the Music City Center and subsequent permanent deployment, White has launched a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)-powered indoor navigation solutions firm called Ziiio that is currently in conversations with several potential customers that include hospitals and outdoor festivals.
White says he began working with his students to create a smartphone app using BLE technology to identify an individual's location. He and Sun carried out most of the development work in summer 2014, creating the app and setting up 64 beacons donated by BKON Connect, a local manufacturer of beacon hardware, software and services. BKON had learned of the Vanderbilt University and Music City Center beacon-based project, according to Richard Graves, the company's founder and CEO, and, as another Nashville company, offered its products. White's group created algorithms so that the app could pinpoint an individual's location based on the transmissions received from the beacons.
In most locations, a phone running the app would receive transmissions from multiple beacons, which would help the app determine exactly where the user was located within the convention center. The challenge is not in gaining location granularly within a few feet, White notes, but in confirming that an individual is within a specific room or public area, or on a specific floor, based on the beacon data being received. This, he says, can prove difficult for a layout as complicated as that of the Music City Center, which has unusual angles and structural elements that can reflect RF signals.
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