A beacon is a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) emitter device that emits radio waves reaching several hundreds of meters and sending information to other bluetooth devices such as smartphones, computers, tablets, and more. Beacons are advantageous for many reasons, but perhaps none greater than their low energy consumption, which allows them to operate for up to twenty years. Apple was at the forefront of the beacon market when they released the iBeacon in 2013 to developers and wireless beacon manufacturers. However, the iBeacon is not a device but rather a frame format allowing bluetooth beacons to communicate with iOS devices. Today, beacons are more popular than ever, with more than 50 BLE manufacturers and countless technical platform providers. In this blog, we will discuss how beacons operate and their uses throughout various industries.
To understand the operation of a beacon, it is important to first know the parts of one. Within a beacon, you will find a battery, microcontroller, antenna, radio dongle, and a Universal Unique Identifier (UUID). In order to create a wireless identification solution through the use of BLE technology, you will need the following: wireless beacons, a bluetooth receiver (smartphone, tablet, computer, dongle, etc.). Unlike other types of beacons, BLE technology benefits from being compatible with a wide range of devices without adapters. Today, nearly all smartphones, computers, and on-board computers are bluetooth compatible. By simply downloading a mobile app or software, users can access information sent by a beacon.
Adverse to common belief, beacons do not send notifications or images. In actuality, the type of data transmitted by a beacon will vary depending on the manufacturer and frame format. Some manufacturers use their own frame format, but the most common on the market currently are iBeacon and Eddystone. To use the iBeacon as an example again, this device emits three units of information: first, the 16-digit UUID, followed by two other identification numbers to differentiate it from other surrounding beacons.
There are three chief uses of beacons in modern industries: automatic identification, asset tracking, and hands-free access control. Beacons are extremely helpful in automatic equipment identification. For example, In the transportation industry, by placing a beacon on a trailer, the driver can easily identify the proper trailer during the coupling and uncoupling process. Here, beacons greatly increase the efficiency of the inventory process. Beacons are also critical in asset tracking at both national and international airports where they are used to track non-motorized vehicle fleets which comprise equipment like step ladders, tow bars, luggage racks, and more. By equipping each piece of equipment with a beacon and embedded GPS tracker, airports are able to locate every single asset in and out of operation.
Finally, BLE beacons can be used for hands-free access control readers. This allows users to access a site without an extra entry pass, as the smartphone or other device becomes the identification support. When the user arrives at the access point, the device receives a beacon and transmits an application request. The advantages of this application are its weide detection range as well as the removal of a need for physical entry pass. Beacons provide a wide range of solutions in many applications.
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