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beacons & geofences

Beacons

What are beacons?


Beacons are small wireless sensors that you can attach to any location or object. They broadcast tiny radio signals which your smartphone can receive and interpret, unlocking micro-learning and contextual awareness. The beacons themselves are small, cheap battery powered transmitters.




How do beacons work?


Beacons are based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). BLE is a wireless network technology used for transmitting data over short distances. They are cheap and don’t use a lot of energy. No data is stored on a beacon. The smartphone simply listens for the beacon’s radio signal. They don’t collect information from User’s devices. The two most common protocols that beacons use are iBeacon (Apple) and Eddystone (Google). While similar, they have different implementations and aren’t interchangeable.




How do beacons integrate with the PinPoint platform?





How does the beacon experience work with the app open?


Beacons can be detected while the PinPoint app is open (foreground) and while it is closed (background). When the PinPoint app is in the foreground detection is faster. However, when the app is in the background, iOS (not the PinPoint app) is deciding when to look for beacons. It prioritizes iOS functions like battery life over searching for beacons so it is slower.




What are some of the technical specifications for iBeacons?


Identification iBeacons work by broadcasting a UUID (universally unique identifier) using Bluetooth Low Energy. The UUID is picked up by an application that can read the value and do something with it, such as determine the location of the user’s device or send a notification. The ibeacon consists of three types of identifiers:

  • Proximity UUID - The proximity UUID differentiates iBeacons from one another.
  • Major (optional) - The major value can be used to tag beacons in different groups, e.g. 1 for Boston and 2 for Los Angeles.
  • Minor (optional) - The minor value can also be used to group beacons, e.g. 4 for first floor and 5 for second floor.
Distance Once again, beacons do not send push notifications to devices nor do they track users. They simply broadcast these 3 pieces of data (UUID, Major and Minor) to any device that will listen. The beacons broadcast up to 10 - 15 meters . Some manufactures can broadcast up to 100 meters. But, in practice, they perform best under 30 feet. You can set how far a beacon broadcasts. iBeacons can be set to immediate (1 meter), near (1- 5 meters), or far (5 to 15 meters). Google’s Eddystone works in much the same way but sends some additional packets to the ones from Apple. Overall Speed and Accuracy In the real world here is what you should know about speed and accuracy: Beacon detection is ideal for proximity scenarios NOT for exact location. It can give you room level accuracy but not object level accuracy. Speed of detection depends on on a number of variables:
  • Physics - detection time of phone antennae and radio wave
  • Physics - interference from the environment such as types of walls, water, etc. They do not interfere with wifi. Also, the placement of beacons matters....
  • Power levels - Beacon battery and transmission power and intervals




How do beacons compare to GPS?


Where GPS is globally used as location technology, it has some disadvantages in terms of reaching inside buildings or basements, precision of the location, and battery usage. iBeacon is more precise, works indoor and underground, and has virtually no signal obstruction.




What are some ideas for how to use beacons?


  • Forklift operators receive daily checklists.
  • Medical workers receive a PDF explaining proper medical waste disposal process.
  • Retail employees watch product information videos.
  • Training updates quickly delivered to nursing stations.




What the the pros and cons of beacons compared to other location technologies?


Beacons are powerful because they are a push-driven strategy. The User doesn’t have to do anything and a contextual and personalized learning event is sent to them. Whereas with pull-driven strategies like QR codes or RFID the User is required to take action to retrieve their learning. Beacons work best for proximity versus exact location. Speed of detection can take seconds to minutes. So, it works best for important but not immediate information. In a more immediate information scenario, something like QR codes or barcodes are a better solution.





Geofences

What is a geofence?


As its name suggests, a geofence is a virtual fence drawn around a location on a map. When a user enters the geofence region the smartphone alerts the PinPoint app that a new assignment is available.




How does a geofence work?


Geofencing works through a combination of cellular data, GPS and wifi. Geofencing uses this data to establish coordinates which determine the user’s proximity to a particular region. Apple recommends that the minimum radius of a geofence is 200 meters. PinPoint enables you to select from the following distances: 200, 500 and 1,000 meters. In cities, where the cell towers and Wi-Fi routers are more dense, geofencing accuracy can reach 200 meters. If you work in a skyscraper, geofencing might not work reliably due to GPS inaccuracies. Using the Large radius setting may help. In more rural areas, where cell towers and WiFi routers are sparse, geofencing accuracy can reach several hundred meters. To improve geofencing accuracy, ensure your mobile device meets these conditions:

  • WiFi is turned on.
  • GPS or location services are turned on.
A user can get even more accuracy from the GPS but it requires more power and quickly wears down the battery. PinPoint has adopted passive geofencing. This means that geofencing is always listening for assignments, working in the background, with low power consumption.




How do geofences integrate with the PinPoint platform?


When you build an assignment with a geofence the smartphone will monitor for that geofence in the background. When the user crosses the geofence perimeter, the smartphone notifies the PinPoint app which geotargets the user for personalized learning. If 10 users cross the threshold but only one needs training, only the user needing training will see an assignment.




What is the difference between geofencing and beacons?


Geofences are best for macro locations — construction sites, corporate locations, etc.. Beacons are for microlocations — specific rooms in a building, areas of a warehouse, etc.. They use different technologies and have different benefits. Click here to learn more about beacons and the PinPoint platform.




What are some ideas for using geofences?


  • Employees sent hotspot images diagraming fire escape routes in a newly constructed building.
  • Construction workers complete assessments to demonstrate understanding of new equipment at site.
  • The Safety Director sends out an infographic illustrating a new OSHA regulation affecting the entire plant.
  • New employees targeted with custom onboarding videos.
  • Assignments sent to mobile sales reps informing them about location-specific sales strategies.
  • Hotspot image map of area identifying inspection locations sent to utility workers.
  • Safety inspectors receive a document outlining local regulations as they enter the area.




What are the pros & cons of geofences compared to other location services?


Geofences are ideal for push-driven learning events. They work best for larger distances like an office building or worksite. Like beacons, geofences don’t require the user to initiate learning. QR code, barcodes, NFC or RFID all require the user to initiate (and possibly special equipment.) If you need tighter accuracy or want to use location services indoors than something like beacons or QR codes would be a better solution.





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