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Buildings 'Talk' to Tourists in Portugal and Italy via BLE Technology

The SMIITY app, from Mobinteg, enables villages and cities to provide tourists with content regarding historical structures, businesses and events in their community, based on an app user's location.
By Claire Swedberg

The City of Elvas, Portugal, has installed the SMIITY system to provide information around town and in a large historic military fort. The fort posed unique challenges, Pinto says. The city wanted the fort to remain in its existing condition without the aesthetic distraction of signage, posters or digital monitors, he explains, but it also wanted tourists to view information about the structure. The solution consists of SMIITY's beacons installed at discreet locations around the fort. As individuals running the SMIITY app on their phones move around the premises, they can view content about their location at any given time. For instance, upon entering the prison cells, they can read about the prison's history, while the prison walls look exactly as they did while still in use. "The concept is for the fort to tell you a story," Pinto states. "What we really want is to help the people feel the environment" without signage in the way.

In Vali di Susa, Italy, a region of small villages is employing the beacon-based app to provide information about what is happing within each village. This includes the types of products being sold at restaurants and cafés.

In Lisbon, the system is installed around town and within the National Museum of Ancient Art. In that way, not only can visitors view the museum's location on the app, but once they enter, beacons installed on walls throughout the building enable the app to display content about specific exhibits. Even before entering, users can also employ the app to purchase tickets.

What's more, the SMIITY system is being used in Madeira, Portugal, to help hikers learn about the environment on hiking trails on its mountainous main island. Beacons are installed in trees, as well as on or behind rocks and at other locations, where they are not plainly visible. As individuals walk through the trails, their phones capture beacon transmissions, enabling them to view not only their location on the trail, but also information about the area's plants, geology and wildlife.

The SMIITY Box is now being tested in Portugal for use by municipalities to track air quality and noise conditions. The device includes a sensor that captures sound levels, counts people passing and measures the quality, temperature and humidity of the surrounding air. The municipality can then access that data in one of two ways. If a Wi-Fi network is available, the information can be forwarded to a server via a Wi-Fi connection, and Mobinteg's software can then interpret and display that data for the user. If no such network is available, however, the beacon technology can be used. In this case, those with a smartphone who have downloaded the SMIITY app can serve as the transmission provider. As they walk past the battery-powered beacon, their phone receives the transmission and the app prompts the phone to forward that data back to the server.

Mobinteg is currently in discussions with several communities about further testing this product, Pinto reports. In addition, the SMIITY system is expected to be installed in about 20 more communities around Europe this year. The company has opened an office in Atlanta, Ga., and plans to begin offering the technology in the United States as well.

Mobinteg uses its own beacons, Pinto says, which are manufactured by a third party to meet the company's requirements. They are able to transmit data about battery levels, he adds, along with their own identifier, and can pulse transmissions from the BLE iBeacon profile, then switch to Eddystone and back to iBeacon again. The beacons are also ruggedized for use outdoors.

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