Great idea and a huge opportunity, isn’t it?Bluetooth Beacons are small transmitters that are permanently sending a signal in a distance from a few inches/centimeters (close) to a few foot/meters (near) and up to 70 meters to all devices that are listening for such a signal.
Beacon Management Mobile App
All mobile devices having a Bluetooth Low Energy capability and placed in the beacons’ broadcast range will receive the signal. The applications installed on the mobile device will know what type of action to take, like showing presence notifications, trasfer assets to specific locations or identifying specific goods or assets wearing beacons.
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THINGS ABOUT BLUETOOTH BEACONS YOU NEED TO KNOW
BLE and WiFi are very similar, but RFID and NFC are completely different. They’re meant for short range, around a few centimeters to maybe one meter. You can make them increase range but the antenna needed could be up to a half meter long. Passive technologies don’t have their own power source, so
you have to transmit energy by sending energy to this antenna. That’s why they have to be so long. Active RFID does have its own power source but it’s not as handy because of that antenna size.
A beacon is a small Bluetooth radio transmitter.
It’s kind of like a lighthouse: it repeatedly transmits a single signal that other devices can see. Instead of emitting visible light, though, it broadcasts a radio signal that is made up of a combination of letters and numbers transmitted at a regular interval of approximately 1/10th of a second. A Bluetooth-equipped device like a smartphone can “see” a beacon once it’s in range, much like sailors looking for a lighthouse to know where they are.
Bluetooth Low Energy (also called Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth Smart) is the specification for the type of signals that beacons transmit. Bluetooth LE has the advantage that it is low energy and is ‘native’ to most modern phones and tablets.
- Heavy machine building & aerospace: minimized labor costs and production delays by allowing staff to quickly locate expensive inventory that needs to go into the heavy machine and aircraft production.
- Vehicle dealership & warehousing: on-time shipment & lower operational costs by allowing staff to quickly locate the vehicle that they need to ship to a specific customer within indoor and outdoor parking lots with cars, forklifts, trucks, golf carts, etc.
- Manufacturing maintenance services: better operational availability & fewer bottlenecks by allowing manufacturing and maintenance staff to quickly find the expensive tool/equipment they need so that it never stays idle or stops production.
- Coils and other rolled materials manufacturing: higher throughput rate by allowing staff to find the piece of inventory they need in order to prepare a customer order. (coils, rolled roofing materials etc.)
- Pallets warehousing: fewer write-offs and overstocking by making sure that pallets are not misplaced and lost & always have an overview of where they are and where they were was last seen.
A number of organizations have experimented with tagging items with RFID chips in the past. While these are useful, they have a limited range, which means they are not useful for larger spaces. Beacons have an advantage here, partly because they have a larger range, but also because they can be deployed in groups.
You can easily cover a large warehouse space with just a few beacons. For other internal spaces (where you have to deal with smaller rooms, corridors, lifts etc.), you can quickly deploy beacons in fleets to give total coverage.
It’s also worth noting that beacons offer greater security and more control over the type of signals being broadcast and accepted.
One case that we have talked about internally is hospitals. Medical equipment is very high-value, and quickly locating the right device can literally be a case of life and death.
Medical scanners and devices are routinely wheeled from place to place within hospitals; so tagging them with BLE beacons makes perfect sense. Because beacons use low-energy signals, they also avoid interfering with device operations. This also allows usage patterns to be monitored and optimized.
What is a beacon packet? Do you need those? Here are some notes on Beacon specs and details.
- Battery life: Most beacons start with an 18-24 month battery life. However, some beacons with certain requirements and uses last some 6-8 months. Beacons with energy-saving capabilities can last over 5 years.
How can beacons last so long with such tiny batteries? Easy! They don’t actually work that hard. They let Bluetooth do all the work, and Bluetooth is incredibly energy efficient.
- Supported format: Does your beacon use the iBeacon protocol? Eddystone? Beacons usually support both of these and sometimes the hardware manufacturer’s own format (like AltBeacon).
- Interval: How often can the beacon transmit its message? How often you need your beacon to transmit depends on your specific scenario. (ms=millisecond)
- Tx Power: The Transmission Power describes how far a beacon can transmit data. This can be as little as 4 meters, but many reach some 50-90 meters. However, it is not necessary that this number be humongous. A 50-meter range beacon can be just as useful as a 90-meter depending on the specific use.
- Packets: A beacon’s “packet” is the data it transmits. This just describes the kind of information it is able to transmit. For example, iBeacon contains one packet (iBeacon itself) while Eddystone has three separate ones.
- Sensors: Now, beacons are coming out with extra capabilities. They may include accelerometers, light or movement sensors.
- NFC / RFID: Beacons are still very new. For some users, it’s highly important that legacy technologies (like NFC and RFID tags) and beacons work together.
Beacons are not necessarily Internet connected. Once you position them, are like a lighthouse. They send out a signal. They’re unaware of themselves and any other devices that are around them. They’re not connecting to the Internet. They’re not connecting to wifi. They’re just sending out these Bluetooth low energy packets and they’re saying hey, I’m here, I’m here, see me, take action if you want.
It’s also worth mentioning that the ability to monitor assets does not end with finished products in a warehouse or on a shop shelf.
It’s also possible to monitor parts and materials during the manufacturing process, which again can help avoid bottlenecks in the process and aid fulfillment, and even assign staff to specific tasks based on their current proximity to particular assets. This is a low-cost way to greatly improve efficiency.
There are endless other possible asset management use-cases available, from mobile device management to optimizing transport. Take a look at our other use case examples to get inspired, or check out our range of beacons to see which best fit your business
The typical range of Bluetooth low-energy radio modules is up to 70 m (230 ft.). It depends on the location too, because radio signals can be absorbed or diffracted. There are beacons with 140m (460ft.) distance.
Most beacons have a battery life of two years as the energy consumption for 10 seconds broadcasting. The battery is generally is replaced.
A beacon is a physical device with the antenna and the Bluetooth low energy stack that can send out packets. iBeacon is like a layout of that packet. You can have various different layouts from different manufacturers. The iBeacon one is proprietary to Apple, but that doesn’t mean that Android devices and other devices cannot see those beacons as well. We’re heading towards other types of packet layouts being available like AltBeacon and Eddystone.
Beacon hardware is relatively simple, but the way it triggers actions can get a little complicated. Every system is a little different, but here’s how a beacon communicates, in a nutshell:
The beacon sends out its ID numbers about ten times every second (sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on its settings). A nearby Bluetooth-enabled device, like your phone, picks up that signal. When a dedicated app recognizes it, it links it to an action or piece of content stored in the cloud and displays it to the user. You can “teach” your app how to react to a beacon signal by developing using third-party tools.
BLE stands for Bluetooth Low Energy. It’s a power-efficient version of Bluetooth originally introduced in 2010. BLE’s low energy needs are vital to beacons, as it allows them to run for years on tiny coin-cell batteries. It also consumes far less energy than the old and clunky Bluetooth. In fact, BLE is a major driver in the IoT, allowing technology to last longer with smaller parts.
What do they look like? Beacons are very small, simple devices. If you crack one open, you won’t find thirty motherboards and oodles of wires. You’ll find a CPU, radio, and batteries. Beacons often use small lithium chip batteries (smaller and more powerful than AA batteries) or run via connected power like USB plugs. They come in different shapes and colors, may include accelerometers, temperature sensors, or unique add-ons but all of them have one thing in common—they transmit a signal.
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