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Beacons are usually small standalone devices that are attached to walls or objects in the environment.
The simplest beacons simply send out a signal to devices in range but they may also be Wi-Fi- and cloud-connected and can contain memory, processing resources and sensors for temperature and motion detection (among other possibilities).
A typical configuration might include an ARM processor, a Nordic Semiconductor or Texas Instruments chipset, a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) module, and a battery. The devices are low-power and inexpensive, with a battery life of several years.
Beacons are often said to work like lighthouses, sending out an intermittent signal that can be detected by an entity within range. Instead of the light signals that guide ships, however, the beacon emits a radio signal that can be picked up by nearby mobile devices equipped with the associated app.
Vehicular beacons are rotating or flashing lights affixed to the top of a vehicle to attract the attention of surrounding vehicles and pedestrians.
Emergency vehicles such as fire engines, ambulances, police cars, tow trucks, construction vehicles, and snow-removal vehicles carry beacon lights.
The color of the lamps varies by jurisdiction; typical colors are blue and/or red for police, fire, and medical-emergency vehicles; amber for hazards (slow-moving vehicles, wide loads, tow trucks, security personnel, construction vehicles, etc.); green for volunteer firefighters or for medical personnel, and violet for funerary vehicles.
Beacons may be constructed with halogen bulbs similar to those used in vehicle headlamps, xenon flash tubes, or LEDs
Google’s Eddystone and Apple’s iBeacon are the two most commonly implemented beacon protocols.
Any hardware device that supports Bluetooth 4.0 can, in theory, become a beacon in an iBeacon network, which means that smartphones, PCs, and tablets can function as beacons.
The beacon continuously scans for iOS-based mobile devices that have Bluetooth open and are running the associated mobile app. When the beacon detects such a device, it sends a connection request to wake up the app.
Information within the request includes the information required to push the desired communication to the device in real time.
There are many advantages to Google’s Eddystone. Firstly, it can send out a URL, which removes the necessity of the installed app and Telemetry information.
It even has an open format which makes it flexible to use. It is also integrated with various Google products which add on to its diverse use.
Beacons are increasingly implemented in retail environments, where they are used to streamline mobile payment systems and enable proximity marketing: the wireless delivery of promotional material to mobile users within range.
The location may be so precise that the communications target a shopper standing in front of a particular product with coupon offers, flash sales and suggestions for related products — among many other possibilities.
Beacon technology has many other applications. The same precision of targeting that finds consumers can enable communications directed to someone in a particular seat at a stadium or standing in front of a museum installation or an artwork in a gallery.
The technology can provide users with directions or maps to airport locations such as gates, ticket counters, shops, and restaurants, as well as identifying the closest elevators, restrooms, and courtesy phones. Similar apps can help guide people in other large facilities, such as hospitals and help them find their cars when they leave those locations.
AltBeacon is also another type of Beacon. It is mostly a radius network and was announced in 2014. This was designed to overcome the issue of protocols favoring one vendor over the other. Unlike other Beacons, this one is an open source.
It has compatibility with other mobile operating platforms. It is even more flexible with customizable source code.
In addition to tracking objects themselves, beacons could be used to track people such as patients or doctors in hospitals during emergencies. The focus may have initially been on the retail industry, but as the technology matures, we can expect other sectors to follow in understanding how beacon technology can aid their day-to-day activities.
Beacons help guide navigators to their destinations. Types of navigational beacons include radar reflectors, radio beacons, sonic and visual signals.
Visual beacons range from small, single-pile structures to large lighthouses or light stations and can be located on land or on water. Lighted beacons are called lights; unlighted beacons are called daybeacons.
Aerodrome beacons are used to indicate locations of airports and helipads. Handheld beacons are also employed in aircraft marshaling and are used by the marshal to deliver instructions to the crew of aircraft as they move around an active airport, heliport or aircraft carrier.
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