Nordic Bluetooth Smart technology enables “beaconification”

Beacons represented an application area of interest for Nordic Semiconductor in September. The maker of ultra-low-power RF SoCs announced that Estimote is employing Nordic's nRF51822 SoCs to provide the Bluetooth Smart (formerly known as Bluetooth low energy) wireless connectivity in its newly launched Estimote stickers.

In addition, Canadian startup Reteneo is using Nordic's nRF51822 SoCs to provide the Bluetooth Smart connectivity to smartphones in a stripped-down iOS and Android-compatible “Puck” beacon platform. And Polish startup Kontakt.io has specified multiple Nordic nRF51822 SoCs to provide the Bluetooth Smart wireless connectivity in Kontakt.io's Cloud Beacon pre-integrated beacon hardware platform.

Estimote Stickers, which Estimote says fit in the “nearables” beacon product category, are small (approximately 3 mm thin), low cost (sub-$10), ready-made beacons with built-in accelerometers and temperature sensors designed to be stuck on everyday nearby objects. (The stickers build on Estimote's previously launched Beacons, which also employ Nordic technology.)

Estimote Stickers can then be used to provide microlocation and contextual data about nearables to any Bluetooth Smart Ready device. If you're “nearable” is a bicycle, for example, an Estimote sticker can help track your route, or let you know if someone is moving your bike without your permission. If your “nearable” is backpack, a sticker can let your cellphone know if you've left it behind at a restaurant or coffee shop. And retailers can affix the stickers to merchandise to provide customers context-sensitive information and to monitor what items customers most interact with.

Estimote provides an SDK (Software Development Kit) to help developers build new types of context-aware apps and help drive growth in the wider 'Internet of Things' trend.

Nordic also announced that Reteneo is using Nordic's nRF51822 SoCs to provide the Bluetooth Smart connectivity to smartphones in a stripped-down iOS and Android-compatible “Puck” beacon platform that Reteneo says supports a subscription model as low as $15 per month and is delivered ready-to-use beyond a simple set-up and programming procedure.

The Reteneo Puck beacon platform also allows multiple retailers and merchants to offer beacon-based services to consumers via a Reteneo Life app instead of having to download and set-up a separate app for each retailer or merchant of interest. And all Pucks are remotely maintained by Reteneo as part of the subscription service and replaced when required.

And finally, Nordic announced that Polish startup Kontakt.io has specified multiple Nordic nRF51822 SoCs to provide the Bluetooth Smart wireless connectivity in Kontakt.io's Cloud Beacon pre-integrated beacon hardware platform.

Kontakt.io says its Cloud Beacon platform will eventually include a wearable rubber wristband option (that will also incorporate Nordic wireless technology) for tracking people such as children in schools or while out on a school day trip. It can also be used by healthcare patients and workers in manufacturing facilities for health and safety purposes.

Kontakt.io cites several in-progress customer application examples of its Cloud Beacon platform:

  • navigation solutions for the visually impaired;
  • indoor navigation capability for public buildings and sites (including a on-going project to “beaconify” San Francisco International Airport);
  • a smartphone-based payment system for a local currency called the “Brixton Pound,” which can be spent only within the Brixton area of London to boost and retain local trade and investment;
  • music festival management and marketing to festival-goers both during and after an event;
  • targeted parking promotions offering free parking to customers as they drive past various participating businesses; and
  • an interactive restaurant rewards scheme.

“We see a day where low cost beacons will be used everywhere to take the hassle out of everyday life and make various everyday tasks easier and more efficient and intelligent, based on proximity interaction,” said Jack Hassan, chief brand officer at Kontakt.io, in a press release. “This is being driven by the advent of Bluetooth Smart wireless technology and its ubiquity in modern smartphones and computing devices, and its ultra low power operation that supports extended, multi-year battery lifetimes from small batteries.”

Sounds promising, but it could be too much of a good thing, with businesses urging me to park, music festival organizers bombarding me with messages, and a “beaconified” SFO warning me of the latest security requirements. Perhaps in this last case, at least, context sensitivity could, once in the departure lounge, eliminate the useless warning, “The TSA has limited items that may be carried through the security checkpoint. Please contact your airline for more information.”

More in Instrumentation