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Gimbal Wants to Turn Vending Machines, Jukeboxes and Other Devices Into Beacons

The San Diego-based beacon manufacturer is beginning to move toward licensing its firmware and cloud-based services to companies that could benefit by connecting more directly with their customers.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Gimbal uses a process called rolling encryption, which means that the ID number that a Gimbal beacon emits is different every time. This prevents an unauthorized third party from accessing the beacon's specifications and, say, re-encoding the beacon with its ID and, therefore, what action is triggered on a customer's phone. (Such a hack, known as hijacking, could result in a shopper inside a Target store receiving special offers from Walmart, as a theoretical example. Thompson notes that no such major hijacking events have happened to date, but retailers certainly want to guard against them.)

According to Hunter, a device maker will have the ability to turn already-deployed Bluetooth-enabled devices into Gimbal beacons via a firmware upgrade, or by building the firmware into new products. While it is technically possible to use Gimbal's firmware with a beacon made by another manufacturer, he adds, that would most likely breach the beacon owner's contract with the beacon manufacturer. However, Hunter reports, Gimbal is actively pursuing partnership agreements with some beacon makers that would allow this.

Thompson thinks such an arrangement could lead to real benefits for a device manufacturer that might want to install another maker's beacon due to some physical attribute—such as a long read range or resilience to weather or other environmental conditions—but that might also want to leverage Gimbal's firmware and cloud-based services.

Thompson believes that a growing number of beacon makers will begin to license firmware as beacon prices fall. "When they first arrived [in the marketplace], beacons cost around $30 or $40 each," he states. "Now, they are as low as $8 each. So it's not necessarily the hardware itself that is the value—it's the firmware and cloud services that go with it."

And with more devices beginning to use Bluetooth technology, Thompson adds, "the definition of a beacon is changing."

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