Spreo Beacons the Way at Mall, Hospital

By Claire Swedberg

A Florida shopping mall and an Israeli medical center are both employing the company's beacon solution to help people navigate their way.

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Taubman Centers, a builder and operator of high-end U.S. regional malls, and Clalit Health Services, an Israeli hospital operator, have each rolled out a new Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon solution provided by indoor navigation technology startup Spreo. The solution offers users with an easy way to not only locate stores or departments of interest, based on their current location, but also to schedule their day, using the app to be directed from one location to the next. The system was taken live for shoppers with the opening of Taubman’s Mall at University Town Center (UTC), located in Sarasota, Fla., in December 2014, and for patients, visitors and personnel at Clalit’s Carmel Medical Center, in Israel.

Spreo, named after the starling known for its innate navigational skills, was launched two years ago in New York City and Israel. Clalit approached Lior Meller, Spreo’s CTO and one of the company’s two co-founders, in Israel, looking to develop a solution to help people map their way throughout its large hospital. As a result, Meller and his partner (both of whom came from wireless technology backgrounds) founded Spreo, and began researching and developing an indoor navigation system that was initially based on Wi-Fi but then shifted to beacon technology. “Wi-Fi works and is effective for Android phones,” says Brett Reisman, Spreo’s marketing and business development director. “But beacon is so ubiquitous.”

Taubman Centers’ Mall at UTC mobile app

The solution Spreo developed consists of beacons manufactured by third-party vendors that transmit data to BLE-enabled smartphones, as well as Administrative Dashboard and Content Manager, Spreo’s back-end software that identifies locations, provides beacon fleet management and map displays, and shares that information with an app running on a user’s smartphone. Spreo also offers a software development kit (SDK) that its customers can use to develop beacon-enabled apps for smartphones and tablets.

The UTC mall, Taubman’s latest shopping location, is designed to be both upscale and cutting-edge, appealing to consumers very accustomed to using their mobile phones to aid them in their shopping. Eighteen months before the mall opened, Taubman Centers began developing its own Mall at UTC mobile app to help make shoppers’ experience more efficient and fun.

“We started off looking at ways we could offer an overall improvement of the consumer’s journey,” says Ivan Frank, Taubman’s director of digital marketing. “We believed an app would have a big impact, and spent a lot of time looking into all types of technology.” The company determined that Wi-Fi would not provide a very specific location, and that there are already many Wi-Fi signals in the mall airwaves (Frank estimates there to be approximately 700 Wi-Fi access points in a typical mall) that could create an overcrowding problem.

With the Spreo beacon solution, shoppers can use the mall app to navigate their way around the site, learn about promotions at favorite stores, and plan their day based on the locations they wish to visit. Upon entering the mall, a user can download the app (assuming he or she has not already done so) and launch it, after which his or her phone will begin to receive transmissions from nearby beacons. A total of 265 beacons were installed around the mall throughout public areas—hallways and corridors only—but not within the stores themselves. A store could also install its own beacon-based navigation system within its own site, Reisman says, and tie it in with the Mall at UTC app.

Clalit’s visitors use Spreo’s WayfindR for Hospitals app to find their way around the medical facility.

Once a shopper begins using the system, he chooses which stores he would like to make his favorites by selecting “Like It,” and he can then view promotions from those stores, as well as see their locations on a map that also indicates, in real time, where he is standing. Navigational information is displayed on the map, or in text, and can be spoken if the user prefers.

To map out her day, a shopper can indicate which stores she wants to visit. The app will then map out the most convenient route for her to travel through all of those stores.

It is still too early to determine the app’s popularity or the benefits from its deployment, Frank says. However, he notes, an independent research firm conducted a study of consumers who use the app. “The output was phenomenal,” he reports, describing users’ responses to the survey. “They liked its usability; it was fun and engaging and unique.” He says he believes UTC is the first mall to offer such functionality in an app.

According to Reisman, the system is expected to be rolled out to other Taubman Centers malls in 2015, which will requires several thousand additional beacons.

Clalit’s 250-bed Carmel Hospital, in Haifa, has six floors, each with a unique layout. The hospital had sought a system that would identify, for users of a phone app, not only the floor on which they were located but also where on that floor.

Spreo’s Brett Reisman

Clalit wanted a system that would make it easier for those unfamiliar with the hospital to navigate their way to the proper room or department, Reisman explains. The medical center installed 100 beacons throughout its facilities, and is using Spreo’s back-end software and WayfindR for Hospitals app to provide directions to patients and their visitors, as well as to visiting doctors. Once a user downloads the app, that person can view his or her location on a map of the hospital floor where they are. The individual can then use the app’s browser to select the department or room number being sought, and the app will then display the route ahead, similarly to Google Maps. Users can also make their request to the app verbally, and can receive audible cues such as “turn left.” In addition, the app allows users to map out their day, but instead of selecting stores—as mall shoppers would do—they can select specific departments, such as the imaging area, a laboratory or a cafeteria.

As with the UTC Mall deployment, Clalit installed beacons only in corridors, hallways and other general public areas, providing 100 percent coverage of the hospital at those places. Reisman says the beacons used for Spreo’s solution are made by a variety of companies, and not dependent on just one brand.

A version of the Mall at UTC app for Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices is available at the iTunes website, with an Android version expected later this year. A version of the WayfindR for Hospitals that is compatible with Android devices is available at the Google Play website, with an iOS version slated to be released later this year.