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The market for beacons is soaring — and ESD is in the forefront of this growing industry.

What are beacons? They are small sensors that offer real-time location-based services indoors, an area GPS has trouble accessing. They offer a way to locate a device, such as a mobile phone or smart watch — which means you are also locating a person, because people tend to have these devices with them at all times. Locating people opens up an enormous amount of applications indoors, in the same way GPS has opened up enormous functionality on mobile phones outdoors. Beacons — which use low-energy Bluetooth technology — can be used effectively in multiple markets.

“The deployment of beacons definitely impacts buildings’ and companies’ economic, environmental, and experiential objectives,” explains Rick Szcodronski, Technology Practice Leader in ESD’s San Francisco office. “From an economic standpoint, they are being deployed first and foremost because of efficiency.”

ESD is helping clients design beacons into their spaces and is coordinating their layout with that of wireless access points. 

In healthcare, beacons are being used to provide targeted alerts to nurses and doctors based on their location, to automate the logging of information during patient visits and to help in the administration of medications. 

In the workspace, Szcodronski says, beacons are being used to identify the number and names of people in conference rooms to assist in starting meetings, booking rooms and adjusting temperature and lighting.  Applications using beacons provide incredibly rich data to real estate teams to see how the workplace and conference rooms are utilized such that they can adapt future layouts to match the desired use.
 
Large indoor spaces, such as convention centers, are using beacons to provide an indoor map with directions to a location.  Consumers can use them to turn on lights and open doors in homes just by showing up in the garage.

In retail, they have been deployed to provide dynamic ads and coupons that are tailored for the individual. Airlines and sports teams benefit from beacons by being able to connect more easily with customers to offer seat upgrades.

Overall, the environmental importance of these sensors is obvious.

“They’re essentially bringing everything into the digital world from the physical world,” Szcodronski says. “Things like maps, coupons, security cards, tickets and ads don’t need to be printed out.”

In every instance, beacons — which only cost around $10-$20 each — can ensure that the right message reaches the right person at the right time. And their growth is phenomenal. They are more than doubling in sales each year until they are expected to hit 60 million worldwide by 2019.

A relatively new technology, beacons have not been perfected. They use the same unlicensed 2.4 GHz frequency as Wi-Fi and other Bluetooth devices, so interference can cause issues with communications. There are privacy and security challenges. Competing wireless technologies exist, including WiFi, RFID/NFC, and IR.  All of these technologies have their niches, true, but beacons have the benefit of using Bluetooth, which has already been widely adopted in mobile phones.

All in all, these sensors are truly a beacon of hope for a better future.