Two sets of beacons were at CES this year, one in a big way and one not.
The one in a big way was the beaconing of parts of the massive Las Vegas Convention Center as a joint venture between International CES and Radius Networks. The stated idea behind that one was so that “2015 attendees can now navigate exhibit and conference session locations via CES app.”
Last year’s beacon test at CES was somewhat of a bust, as I wrote about here at the time. Though this one was on a much larger scale, it still had some issues.
While the technology worked, in terms of showing your location within the building and a dot (you) would move along as you walked the halls, the application may not have been the best one to try out.
For one thing, with tens of thousands of people competing for mobile bandwidth(or even basic connections) inside the cavernous halls made transmissions somewhat sketchy at times.
But more significantly, it was just as easy to look up to see where you were in relation to the monstrous displays by the Intels and LGs of the world and then just look at the printed program or map in the CES app to determine the proper direction to walk.
Attendants at the help desk scattered throughout the halls had apparently been told to tell people trying to find certain booths to download and check the app.
I witnessed one discussion where the attendee looking for a particular exhibitor finally shouted at the help desk person “I don’t want to download an app, can’t you just tell me where it is?” The attendee finally walked away from the help desk to allow the next in the steady line to pose their question.
But the beacon setup that was not made out to be such a big deal turned out to be the big deal after all, for anyone who could find it.
Among the hundreds of CES notifications around products being announced or displayed I received leading up to the show was a short one about “an interactive booth experience to explore the event and solutions being showcased at the Texas Instruments booth.”
After several sentences about “an interactive proximity app” and buried down in the press announcement was mention of it being done with beacons. I had to check this out.
The CES beaconing location mentioned previously didn’t work in that part of the building (my dot disappeared), so I turned to the printed brochure maps, and finally to three different help desks, all of which sent me in different directions.
After a helpful security guard made an educated guess as to what area it might be in, I found the TI meeting room area.
I came face to face with the friendly receptionist who greeted and routed all entering the room.
“I’m here about beacons,” I said.
“Is that your name?”
“No, my name is Chuck Martin, but I’m looking for beacons.”
“Oh, that’s the name of the person you’re looking for?”
“No, beacon is not a person, it is a thing.”
“Let me ask someone else.”
Over comes another to help.
“How can I help?
“I’m looking for the beacons display.”
“We don’t have anything like that here.”
“I read about it in a press release I received yesterday.”
“Oh, you mean iBeacon. Wait here, I’ll be right back.”
She left and came back with yet another person.
“He’s looking for the iBeacon area.”
“OK, come with me,” said the latest person.
She then introduced me to someone who I surmised was the beacon person there. After a short back and forth, we determined that he was not the right person and that I was looking for the people literally around the corner from where we were standing.
I finally found the beacon team.
It turns out the company, Bluvision, is not part of TI but rather a TI partner that uses the company’s chips in its beacons and was given display space within the TI presentation area.
The company initially created and launched a consumer beacon product called Find Your Stuff, which I've seen for sale at retailers like Brookstone.
Since then, the company has branched out and now does the beacons for large venues, like Miami and San Francisco airports, CEO Jimmy Buchheim told me.
Their beacons include an accelerometer, ambient light sensor and temperature gauge with a battery Buchheim says will last three years.
They have beacons built into electric converter plugs for other countries and even into the CEO’s name tag.
The display I saw is yet another indicator of where beaconing is heading.
There was one beacon plugged into an electrical socket that also was connected to the internet.
All the data from each beacon goes to that central beacon and up to the cloud, providing a digital dashboard display of all beacon things happening.
For example, we put one beacon in hot water and within a second or two could see displayed on the PC monitor the rising temperature of the beacon.
With accelerometers included, door openings or closings could be captured in real time, temperature sensors can show different degrees in different parts of a building and lighting sensors can indicate the brightness of an area.
From a retail perspective, shoppers could receive messages based on their in-store location, as many already are doing, though with more context.
Inside the TI exhibit at CES, Bluvision beacons at each separate display in the room triggered messaging about each particular display to my phone as I approached each exhibit.
Another obvious use of this technology at retail would be to trigger different video messaging to screens based on where a shopper is in the store.
The videos could be based on the shopper’s past behaviors, such as previous locations and dwell times in departments within that store or, depending on who opts in for this, to a shopper’s personal profile and spending behaviors or habits.
These beacons didn’t necessarily show you how to get somewhere, but focused on providing the value once you arrived.