It's a well known human frailty that people seem to always want what they can’t have. Marketeers know this and seek to create a sense of scarcity with limited time only, limited edition version of their products. In fast-food there is the secret menu. I remember first finding out that you could order “Animal Style” at an In-n-Out and not get your faced slapped. Animal Style is on their secret menu and the level of excitement I felt went way beyond the fact that I was going to get cooked onions, plus some extra pickles with mustard on the patty.
With BluetoothSmart beacon vendors there is something similar … the “hub” or “gateway”. Certain vendors (not to be named) offer these but they are not on the menu, not the one on their web sites anyway, and it makes me want one even more.
What is a “hub” in this context? Bluetooth hubs listen, rather than just broadcast. They are listening for other beacons, are connected in ways that most beacon are not, usually via WiFi and they can talk with web services to orchestrate all sorts of interesting use cases.
One example is tracking the movement of staff. There is a very cool retail analytics company that produces heat maps based on computer vision processing of the security cameras in stores. These systems are amazing, they can create heat maps that show the movement of people around the store and show the dead zones as blue and the hotspots of activity as red. Great to know if you are arranging items in the store to maximize your dollars per square foot. This technology is so sophisticated that it can tell not only the gender of the people walking the floor but their age and their mood … (apologies in advance for the stereotyping) so yes you can tell that there are a lot of unhappy older men huddled by the changing rooms in at Neiman Marcus, while the younger women they are with are in the changing rooms … although you probably didn’t need 21st century computer vision to tell you why. The thing the computer has a hard time doing is distinguishing between customers and employees, so the fact you have a lot of people by the cash register may just indicate your staff have nothing better to do, not that you are succeeding in driving traffic there.
This is where beacons come in. Give a beacon to each of your staff members and put a hub in each corner and you can pull out the noise in your heat map created by the staff and focus your analytics on customers. I love this application because it shows that beacon technology is just another tool in the tool chest rather than something to be ranked as better or worse than XYZ technology.
So you get it, rather than tracking beacons with phones you can use hubs. This enables tracking people for compliance … did the security guard go to the right places, and how long did they spend in each place. It can also be used for asset tracking of equipment in industrial or hospital applications.
I was delighted to find out that a beacon vendor called Netclearence Sytems has got BluetoothSmart enabled gateways on their public menu. Checkout www.netclearancesystems.com and their mBeaconGW. Netclearance are based in San Diego, have some experienced players and have taken a broad perspective targeting management of beacons as a key focus area. They also have a number of powered options including photo voltaic. We could have several blog posts on the subject of powering of beacons so I won’t go there today.
So if beacons are a simple building block, we just got another kind of lego brick to use in constructing compelling solutions. The fact that it’s not on the secret menu may make it less exotic, but it should offer a lot more real value than fried onions and extra mustard.