Technology Spain , Salamanca, Wednesday, May 06 of 2015, 13:36

Innovations with beacon technology

The Faculty of Computer Science of the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca has begun to experiment with a new cordless technology that has several potential uses, in particular interior location

José Pichel Andrés/DICYT Researchers of the Faculty of Computer Science of the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca (UPSA) are beginning to work with beacon technology, which is based on Bluetooth Low Energy or Bluetooth 4.0. Beacons can send signals to nearby mobile phones by means of this system, which has numerous applications, ranging from interior location to sending offers to clients and many other possibilities that have yet to be explored.


The most advanced smartphones are beginning to include the necessary sensors to capture this signal, which has an average range of some 50 metres and one great advantage; its battery consumption is negligible. If the mobile has the appropriate application there are many possible uses.


“In the United States this system is already being used in shopping malls, where customers can receive offers in accordance with their profiles”, explains Montserrat Mateos, a member of the Mobility and Internet Technologies and Services (Tecnologías y Servicios de Movilidad y Web, TESEMOW) research group. As on previous occasions, this group is testing one of the latest technological novelties in order to obtain maximum benefit from it. “Our aim is to innovate, to be one step ahead so as to contribute something to society and so that ideas and applications can be developed from our results”, she comments.


One of the most useful applications could be interior location. In the same way as GPS is used as a guide outdoors, beacon technology could be a viable alternative to indicate the position of places or people inside buildings where the satellite does not reach. “From a technological point of view the two systems have nothing to do with each other, but they could have a similar use taking into account that GPS would be used outdoors and beacons indoors”, the lecturer points out.


In beacon technology each beacon gives off a signal and the mobile device can recognise it and calculate the distance between them. In this way, if a series of beacons are placed inside a building such as the head offices of the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, the user could reach the desired point, such as a classroom or an office, as if he/she were making a GPS search in the street. Indeed this project has already been set in motion under Roberto Berjón, a researcher of the TESEMOV group, and a group of students from the Club Universitario de Innovación of the academic institution. In any case the idea is transferrable to other public buildings such as hospitals and museums, but it also has great business potential: for example, tests have already been made on how to pay without passing through the checkout by using this system.


Mobile telephones can also give off the signal, although for most uses the installation of beacons seems to be the most suitable system, as the cost of each of these elements is relatively low.


Some experts believe that beacon technology may come to replace the Near Field Communication (NFC) on which Montserrat Mateos and her group have been working in recent years. This system also uses a cordless signal but a short range one, which operates when the mobile is physically placed a few centimetres from a tag or another mobile, with which the UPSA researchers have developed several projects.


Years of work with NFC

One of these projects was a payment prototype for parking spaces of the Parking Regulation Decree (Ordenanza Reguladora de Aparcamiento, ORA) by means of a mobile. Another allowed the drawing up and managing of shopping lists for the blind, also by using a telephone. A third was designed to facilitate communication by elderly people unaccustomed to new technologies; by using NFC tags associated with images they could make a call merely by bringing the mobile close to a photograph of the person they wish to contact.


The latest NFC projects have involved the monitoring of class attendance, which can be extended to other similar uses such as staff control for workers. On entering the classroom, students merely have to bring their mobile close to a device or to the teacher's telephone to have their presence recorded. The evolution of this system was the ‘Clock in’ project, which was presented at the last meeting of the Club Universitario de Innovación of the UPSA and in which the students take the lead in the research; the reader used is an Arduino plate, a free hardware platform.


After years of researching this technology at the UPSA, the use of NFC is now beginning to become widespread. One example is that it is included in the new electronic ID card. For this reason, “we do not think that beacon technology will replace NFC, but rather that these are two complementary systems of cordless communication”, Montserrat Mateos affirms.


The general objective of the TESEMOV research group is the obtaining of the maximum possible benefit from smartphones and related technology: “We are working to make the world around us smarter and more accessible with mobiles, which offer so many possibilities”.