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Companies Deliver New Apps for Bluetooth Beacons
Apple's new iOS 7 has sparked interest in the beacons—which are basically active RFID tags that use the Bluetooth Low Energy communication protocol—from Major League Baseball and other potential users.
Oct 07, 2013—
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, also known as Bluetooth Smart, recently received a spurt of attention due to the release of Apple's new iOS 7 operating system, thanks to the addition of the iBeacon functionality that the company has created. With iBeacon, an iPhone or iPad can receive location-based data from a type of BLE transmitter known as a beacon, without requiring consumers to opt in (assuming the application associated with that beacon does necessitate an opt-in process). These beacons function as active RFID tags, with a read range between 10 and 50 meters (33 to 164 feet), and can be deployed around a space—such as a store front or a park—to automatically trigger some sort of action on the phone or tablet.
In late September, Major League Baseball tested a solution employing Apple's iBeacon technology at Citi Field, the New York Mets' home stadium. According to a news article posted on Mashable, MLB had been working closely with Apple on the project since February, and the Citi Field demonstration was launched to show how a team would be able to execute the technology at its ballpark. To participate in the demo, iPhone users needed to download Major League Baseball's free At the Ballpark app, assuming they hadn't done so already. Upon coming within range of a BLE beacon, the phone received that beacon's ID and forwarded it to a server, and the app displayed the bar code of the user's ticket, along with a map leading to the proper seat. The system provided other data as well, which included playing a video describing the stadium's history when the phone came within range of a beacon installed near the Mets' Big Apple statue, located just outside the ballpark. Marc Abramson, MLB's iOS developer, told Mashable that his organization plans to customize the At the Ballpark app at each of its stadiums nationwide—most likely for a 2014 launch—though he did not indicate which other teams will receive it, or when this might occur.Android devices, could already communicate with BLE beacons and tags. However, iBeacon enables an Apple phone or tablet to receive transmissions from a BLE device and respond without much effort on the part of the device owner—namely, the consumer. In the past, for example, a phone or tablet responded to a BLE beacon or tag only if the app related to that beacon or tag was open, or if the phone or tablet was paired with that beacon. With iOS 7, however, an iPhone need only be powered on in order to accept a BLE beacon's signal, and to forward that beacon's ID to a server, along with that of the handset, via its mobile connection. This enables software on that server to determine the iPhone's location and provide a related action, such as displaying advertising data pertinent to that particular area, or simply store location data related to that handset.
During the past year, a number of BLE tags and beacons have appeared on the market, including Droptag, a wireless sensor that can be placed in a parcel prior to shipment and be interrogated via a smartphone, in order to ascertain if the contents suffered any impacts (see Droptag Knows When a Package Has Been Handled With Care). And a Finnish precast-concrete manufacturer uses 9Solutions' BLE technology to help make its operations more efficient (see Lipa Betoni Uses Bluetooth-Based RTLS To Manage Production). Meanwhile, other BLE tags recently launched on the market are focused on helping people locate personal items, and include Tile and Stick-N-Find (see Who Says RFID Tags Pose a Privacy Risk or Are Too Costly?) and GearID's GearTag (see RFID News Roundup: GearID Readies Bluetooth- and NFC-enabled GearTag for Tracking Personal Items, Pets and More).
What's more, multiple vendors have begun offering BLE beacons and applications specifically to take advantage of Apple's iBeacon functionality—and, in some cases, pilots are currently underway testing the technology. These solutions are using the BLE technology in a variety of ways, from enabling consumers to make payments to simply tracking the location of phones, for the purpose of performing business analytics or sending advertising according to location. Some apps require that a phone's user press a prompt to opt-in before the BLE functionality will operate, while others take advantage of the new iOS7 capability to enable a phone to respond without the user opting in.
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