Leveraging Beacon Technology to Make Cities More Livable

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Communicating with residents in major cities has always been difficult, especially when messages need to reach as many residents as possible or need to only reach residents in a certain area. Advertisements are run on local stations by political candidates, local promotions and missing person flyers are mailed to neighborhood residents, emergency alerts and inclement weather warnings are shown on television and, in some instances, sent directly to smartphones.

These methods work, of course, but none of them are perfect. However, as smart devices and location-based technology improve, communication is becoming increasingly localized and targeted. Geolocational messaging has been prominent for some time, but beacon technology may be the future of location-based communication. Beacon technology (called iBeacon at Apple and Eddystone at Google) is even more specific than geolocational technology. By installing BLE communicators in or around certain locations, notifications can be pushed to mobile devices as users approach or spend a predetermined amount of time in an area.

Improving Transportation Infrastructure

Take, for example, subway stations: in big cities with enormous mass transit networks, finding a signal underground is nearly impossible — LTE networks and GPS drop off as soon as trains leave their station. Beacon technology can solve this problem: By placing beacons in stations and tunnels, subway riders can download a mass transit app to check train schedules and be updated instantaneously about route or service changes.

And that isn’t the only way beacons can improve mass transit in major metropolitan areas. Many cities use single points of entry and exit (e.g., turnstiles) to control how people use mass transit systems. The problem with turnstiles, however, is that they only track when people enter and exit the system. How many people change trains at which stations (and when) is considerably harder to determine. As a result, the data cities can collect about commuters is limited. However, if every rider with a smart device can connect to beacons installed throughout the system, cities would be able to more accurately determine how busy specific stations and trains are at certain times. Using this information, mass transit systems would be able to make adjustments to schedules both in real time and also over time, improving transportation infrastructure for everyone.

Invigorating Local Commerce

Beacons technology isn’t just useful underground: cities can use beacons to boost local brick-and-mortar commerce, too. For example, if a potential customer walks past a store, a beacon’s BLE can send a push notification to that customer, offering a special discount or reminding them about an item on their shopping list. For customers already in stores, additional notifications can be pushed as well. For example, if a customer has spent a long time in one particular aisle, they can be connected with a customer service representative to help them find what they’re looking for. Beacon notifications can provide more personalized customer experiences, revitalizing commerce in major cities and attracting customers to locations they might not otherwise visit.

Logistical Considerations

In the above examples, users would need to install specific apps on their smart devices in order to receive messages from nearby beacons. Luckily, this isn’t always the case: beacons also have the ability to push notifications with URLs attached, which can link either to app download pages or to websites with more information. For example, when people pass through a neighborhood where a missing person was last seen or where pickpocketing recently occurred, push notifications can be sent directing them to a website with additional information.

As cities get smarter and residents begin expecting more convenient and personalized experiences, beacon and BLE technology will become increasingly common, driving hyper-localization around the country. These new technologies have the potential to change the way urban citizens work, live, and interact with their community — and as more and more Americans migrate to major metropolitan areas, cities will become increasingly reliant on the advantages beacons provide.