Beacon Technology Teaches International Students About Their Surroundings

By Claire Swedberg

The University of Lodz has adopted the SmartUni app, which enables its 1,200 international students to better understand their surroundings and receive updates, announcements and schedules based on their location on campus.

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The University of Lodz is using a beacon-based system that helps its international students to navigate their way around campus and the Polish city of Lodz, as well as manage their classes and schedules. The solution, installed in April of this year, consists of an app developed by proximity-based technology company Linteri, in addition to Bluetooth beacons provided by Kontakt.io.

The university has approximately 1,200 international students from around the world, many of whom are new to Poland, the university and the Polish language. Prior to the adoption of the app, known as SmartUni, these students had to visit administrative offices to receive a variety of forms related to their needs, but many lacked the Polish- or English-language skills necessary to understand and fill them out.

The university mounted 38 Kontakt.io Bluetooth beacons on ceilings and other hard-to-reach structures near its classrooms, administrative areas and dormitories.

“The documents included very limited information and was available only in English,” says Łukasz Felsztukier, Linteri’s founder and CEO.

“The major challenge was the lack of English-speaking personnel at the university, and limited information about the city life available in other languages,” says Liliana Lato, who heads the school’s International Relations Office. “We wanted to make our international guests less dependent on other students or the international office.”

In addition to problems related to paperwork, Lato says, navigating through the campus was not easy, as the university’s buildings are dispersed across the city. “Having the app made all those major problems go away,” she states.

Łukasz Felsztukier, Linteri’s CEO

The university worked with Linteri to develop an app that would enable students to manage their class and exam schedules, receive alerts regarding deadlines, and view announcements and information about events, in their own language. With beacons, however, the system becomes more intelligent, since it can help students to understand where they are on school property, in relation to where they want to be, and to receive location-based information—such as a schedule for entertainment or transportation in the area where they are located. The app is available in Chinese, Russian, English and Polish versions, via the Apple iTunes and Google Play websites.

Kontakt.io provided 38 Bluetooth beacons that the university then mounted on ceilings and other hard-to-reach structures near its classrooms, administrative areas and dormitories. Each beacon transmits its own unique identifier. When a user’s smartphone comes within range of a beacon—about 70 meters (230 feet) outdoors and 20 meters to 30 meters (66 feet to 98 feet) indoors—it transmits that data to the app on a cloud-based server, where Linteri’s content-management software links that data to location-based information that is then displayed on that individual’s phone.

“After testing out different scenarios, we came to a conclusion that most students prefer to receive the forms via e-mail and fill them out using desktop computers,” Felsztukier says. “This is why we added a ‘share by e-mail’ functionality to our mobile application.” When students come within range of the beacon at a specific administrative office, they are offered access to forms they may require, and they can simply opt to receive those forms via the e-mail address they input during the SmartUni app installation process.

In addition, Lato says, when students enter a department’s offices or a dormitory, the app receives “welcome messages to provide students with a simple guide how to find their local coordinators. This way, they don’t have to depend on their foreign-language skills but feel comfortable from the very beginning.”

When a user’s phone comes within range of a beacon, the SmartUni app displays information related to that location.

The phone can receive beacon signals whether or not the SmartUni app is open. If the phone receives a signal when the app is not running, it will launch the app. The only requirement is that users enable their smartphone’s Bluetooth functionality.

The system can also track which announcements or messages generate a response from a SmartUni user, and thus tailor the content that person receives accordingly. However, Felsztukier notes, that feature is not yet in use. “This might change in the future,” he states, “as we plan to provide more personalized information.”

To date, the solution has been adopted by 80 percent of international students, and the messages that the system sends to users have a 47.5 percent engagement rate, meaning that 47.5 percent of those messages resulted in a response. Polish students can also utilize the app for navigation purposes, or for receiving announcements, since a version of the app is available in their native language.

“We have received a lot of positive reactions after the launch,” Lato reports. “We would love to install more beacons and work on more tailored push messages in the future, as well as synchronize the app with all IT programs that are being used by the university.” She adds that “There are lots of ideas we want to implement.”

The SmartUni app was funded, in part, by the European Social Fund, under the umbrella of the European Union.

This story originally appeared on RFIDJournal.com on October 2, 2015.