Sunday, 2 February 2014

Beacons that Move

Up to now, I've been talking about BLE beacons attached at fixed points around the house, office, shop, park, etc. The moving bit is you; or rather your Android device, that picks up the URLs and the signal strengths and drives a 3D AR app that maps out your surroundings.

Beyond that mode, I did mention that a fixed beacon could also scan around it - when first installed - to find out what place it was in and whereabouts it sat.

So the other two combinations left involve the Android device itself broadcasting, either to the fixed beacons or to other Android phones. Unfortunately, Android can't yet broadcast as a beacon through BLE - see this issue here and vote on it by starring. Android needs "Peripheral Mode" support, which iPhones do already have.

Once your phone can also act as a beacon, it can broadcast the URL of your person or avatar object.

The first benefit of this would be more accurate location - the surrounding Things would know how far you are from them and could collaborate on trilaterating your position, which you could combine with your own trilateration of their positions for more accurate results.

Publishing You

If your device were broadcasting, it could be used to notify surrounding people and machines of your presence, identity and other parameters and links you want to make public, through a packet of JSON fetched through the advertised URL.

This would allow various applications such as: automatically paying for a service by walking through a gate, exchanging behavioural tracking for store discounts and a conference birds-of-a-feather locator. You could even advertise that it's your birthday, or that you like rock climbing, your blog URL or your relationship interests. A more private view could show your health to your doctor.

You don't actually need BLE to do something like this: when you have WiFi switched on, your device gives away its unique MAC address while scanning for networks. Now you just need to map from that to your personal URL, which could be done through a MAC-to-URL lookup service a bit like DNS.

Beacons that Move

While waiting for Android to get peripheral mode and enable this huge range of applications, there are other examples of physical objects that can move and can be tagged with a beacon.

The TI SensorTag, the Ninja tag, the Chipolo, the Light Blue Cortado - all allow BLE tracking of the location of things they're attached to, or of values of their sensors, such as accelerometers.

Like you, your car can have its own URL, allowing similar applications such as automatic payment of tolls, fuel and parking fees, detection of presence for tracking in the home or the street, perhaps again in exchange for information or discounts. A more private view could show you the health of the car and allow you to set certain parameters and rules of operation.

Android better fix that peripheral mode if its Open Auto Alliance is to beat iOS, though..

Finally, robots can have "beacons that move", allowing all the above functionality plus a whole lot more, around collaboration and coordination of their joint activities.

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