There is a common misconception that beacons and other location or proximity aware technologies’ primary use case is in the retail sector. This is largely because it’s easy to see the advantages of using the technology to push promotions and issue coupons in store or near product. This results from a distinct lack of creativity on behalf of marketers (the same people who squashed much of the potential of the QR code). When one opens their imagination a little and applies their mind to how this tracking technology can help overcome operational and process challenges and at the same time create rich, engaging and valuable consumer experiences, they may just help the little low frequency Bluetooth beacons achieve mass adoption.
There are some focusing on developing proximity aware technology and software to solve bigger challenges but they are currently few and far between. There are incredible hardware manufacturers who have heavily invested time and financial resources in R&D producing beautiful looking products. These companies through their understandable focus on hardware have not produced more than surface deep software to support the use of the hardware in the real-world. Software companies are emerging who are looking to develop solutions on top of the hardware layer with the intention of closing the full product offering gap but again there is not much that closes the loop neatly in sectors outside of retail. In the equation the various standards factor in. Apples iBeacon, Googles’ Eddystone and others are jockeying for early stage market share and looking to cement a position as the standard of standards.
This is all indicative of a technology in the early stages of market penetration. How it will be adopted and for what primary applications is really still to be established. My hope is that it does not suffer the QR code fate and so below I have listed some cool ideas around its potential use outside of retail. This is my little stab at trying to influence the use case of Beacon technology and elevate the thinking a little so that we (society) can leverage this technology for something more impactful than getting 10% off a McDonalds McMuffin and fries:
1. Automobile manufacture and assembly: Customization of car assembly right on the line. Assembly machines and robots could automatically reconfigure as the vehicle approaches and apply the necessary changes to effect the required customization without halting production. Now this is a real customer centric approach to production – one that would offer the opportunity even to provide assembly updates (even photos) to the client and get them excited about the progress of the build of their specific car!
2. I really stretched my creative capabilities in point one above and in order to overcome the obvious tendency for my engineering brain to lean in a particular technical direction I have borrowed the rest of the list from Jen Quinlan who has put together some fantastic and often funny use cases.
3. If a tagged item crosses Beacon threshold without your smartphone still in the home, alert is triggered in your phone. Your valuables have nearly just been stolen.
4. You ride your bike to a bar. You’re enjoying a pint of beer, when you receive an alert that your bike is moving away from where you parked it. You run outside and scare off the person trying to steal your bike.
5. You’re a teen making out on the couch at your girlfriend’s house. You snuck a beacons in to her parent’s car the other week. As the parents get within 150’ from the house, you receive a text alert and a special ringtone goes off. You sneak out the back door minutes before the garage door goes up – undetected.
6. You love fashion and have a great sense of style. You use your favourite retailer’s app to shoot pictures of your favourite looks from this season. When you enter the store, pictures you’ve saved to the store’s app start streaming on screens across the store and your name glows in digital lights. It is your ‘runway moment’ in your local store and your friends are amazed.
7. You are wearing a new product called a beacon belt. You leave your phone behind, and your beacon belt detects that it is not near. As you move further away from the phone, your belt provides haptic feedback and the phone makes a loud beeping noise alerting you to not leave it behind.
8. You are antisocial and hate interacting with servers. From home you carefully study the menu and pre-select what you want to eat. You arrive at the restaurant, walk-in, seat yourself at an open booth you pre-reserved, eat, and leave w/o any interaction with the wait staff.
9. You stopped riding the bus years ago quite frankly because you got tired of waiting for the bus and it never arriving, arriving late, or having to deal with crummy weather. Good news. All buses in your city just implemented beacon technology, and people riding the bus serve as real-time data to update the transportation system’s app.
10. Exercise machines can be outfitted with beacon technology, so that when a person gets on a treadmill or elliptical, her app could get the ID for the particular machine and provide instructional material (video, tips) to serve as a personal virtual trainer. No more anxiety about how to use that funky crunch machine.
11. From the gym trainer’s POV, you can see if your client actually went to the gym, what they did that day, and where they seemed to get hung up.
12. From the gym management’s POV, you can leverage beacon data to determine which machines are used moved often and by whom. Then identify high-traffic spots to uncover new revenue stream opportunities. For example, you can see who was near the kettlebells and then send them a notification or invite to join the kettlebell class
13. Beacons are implemented in a large building to provide indoor mapping. An emergency occurs, and first responders can more quickly navigate to where the issue occurred.
14. You go to a baseball game. The first person to enter the field gates, buy popcorn, visit the mascot and stop by the scoreboard will receive a prize. You visit all spots, reach the end destination and receive a text from the ballpark that you’ve won and you can redeem your prize near gate 37.
15. Breathe new life into sports equipment. A child walks down street with connected baseball glove. As he walks by houses on his way to the park, other kids’ connected baseball gloves start to buzz. They look out the window, see a neighbor kid heading to the park, and go outside to play a pickup game. Technology brings back the “good old days” when kids actually played games in parks with other neighborhood kids.
16. You’re at Comicon, and your child would love to “run into” their favorite character. Pull up the event’s application and see a signal where that character is. When you’re nearby, tell you kid to close her eyes and make a wish to see if we can make the character appear. Within moments, the character comes around that corner and a wonderful memory was just made.
17. People that are vision impaired could obtain more access to information on museum exhibits. Help bring the museum experience to life for people that can’t see the exhibit itself. Leveraging rich sounds, additional contextual information, visually impaired museum goers could be delighted with an experience that is tailored to their needs. Also help improve navigation to exhibits within the museum.
18. Turn the real world into a secret virtual game. With all players outfitted with a beacon on them, you can play an assassin game or impromptu game of freeze tag. Meet the new flash mob game.
19. Beacons could be applied to various children’s toys to help kids with similar toys connect. Imagine all American Girl dolls have beacons. If there is another doll in the area (with another girl), you could find her to see if she wanted to play. Beacons could take ‘hide n go seek’ or tag to the next level.
20. You realize your trusty canine is nowhere in sight. You hop back in the car and begin searching the neighborhood. Luckily, you bought him an activity-tracking collar with beacon capabilities, like a future version of the Whistle dog collar. Your phone alerts you when you’re within 200 yards of your best friend, so you park and pursue on foot.
21. Imagine visiting a location like a theme park, and Beacons paired with an app keep track of everywhere you visited within the park. Information later could be merged with photos taken to create your own digital scrapbook of your theme park journey.
22. Create the new and more efficient “time card” for employees in a manufacturing or production environment. Or, create the new way to take attendance in classrooms.
23. Picture a beacon placed by your garage door that asks you if you’d like it to open whenever you come near. By pressing Yes on your device, you could have your garage door open before you even buckle your seatbelt.
24. Map how people react during fire alarms in buildings to come up with better emergency plans.
25. Outfit homes that will be utilized as rentals with Beacons to help tenants or renters more easily find things like the fuse box, water valves, storage unit, sprinkler system controls and cable connection.
26. Family is in a rush to leave the house. Your toddler starts screaming because he can’t find his favorite stuffed animal. You pull out your iPhone and receive a signal that the animal is in the bathroom upstairs. You retrieve it in two minutes versus an hour long, blind search.
27. You are a VIP at a local club. You approach the entrance, the bouncer’s phone receives an alert with your image, name and status level. He signals you and calls you by name to invite you into the club and jump the line. Everyone looks in awe.