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Bosch IoT Hackers Bring Distinct Twist to Classic Beacon Solutions

23 March 2017

The IoT Hackathon at Bosch ConnectedWorld saw an array of different technologies, teams, and, most importantly, problems to be solved.
There were four distinct challenges at Bosch’s IoT Hackathon: Mobility, Manufacturing, Building & City, and an Open Hack.
The hackathon featured toys and tools from Bosch, SigFox, Microsoft, Zumtobel, and Kontakt.io. Hackers got to play with Kontakt.io beacons and Location Engine in order to leverage location data and connect the physical and digital worlds.
Here's what we learned:

Alexa needs beacons

Beacons can gamify the real world. We've seen this largely in retail, museums, and stadiums. All of these places offer users the chance to explore and collect points with their friends. But in order to take these campaigns to the next level, we're going to need more technology. For example, Alexa.
The Amazon Echo is popular among tech-lovers and smarthomers and is beginning to grow on the mainstream population. This increasingly common tool is able to make beacons much more fun and also meaningful. The Echo is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. It can turn on your music or control your lights. One Bosch hackathoner hooked the Echo up to beacons and created a system for tracking energy inefficiency.
In this way, the Amazon Echo, voiced by Alexa, can not only turn on your favorite playlist, she can narrate beacon-based games to you. Echo-capability would be easy for large companies to add and also a great, affordable tool for makers and hackers. Maybe the next Hot Thing will be Alexa-directed games and stories? Here's hoping.

Asset tracking is better with AR

"In 2017, we’ll start to see the beginning of the beacon revolution, which will eventually change the way we live our everyday lives. Corporate/Industrial and personal/asset tracking are set to lead the way in beacon technology."
Chuck Sabin, Director of Business Strategy at Bluetooth SIG

Beacons are finally being recognized as more than just a tool for retailers and marketers. Many IoT movers expect this year to be the year beacons become central to RTLS and asset tracking. This, however, is just the beginning. Using beacons to track assets and replace active RFID solutions is obvious. Now, it's time to add a little something special.
One hacking team used beacons to help map where assets are in a space. And it's the addition of augmented reality that made the difference. This would allow a user to see where assets are located in the real world right in front of them. Looking for a very specific asset? One that looks like 100 others on the outside? Mixed reality could guide you to them in a flash.
As the project's hacker, Dimitry Demin explained, one of the most important steps in construction is locating the exactly right asset. Even if they all look the same, using the wrong asset could prove detrimental to the project later on. While assets look the same to our eyes, beacons can sort through it all and take users straight to their target.

Security with beacons needs creativity

Beacons are great for adding an extra layer of security, but what if you got a little more cunning? This is where pure creativity, and a new way of looking at beacons, could bring us unexpected possibilities.
Another team combined the beacon tags with Kontakt.io's Location Engine for some pretty sneaky results.

“We built an application that, given an already learned profile, decides when it detects suspicious behavior such as somebody else using your purse," explains hacker Rob Williamson of Here Maps. "We figure out if the electronics are different. We see if the phone is different or if you have any RFID tags--anything we can pick up through Kontakt.io."

This means the system can recognize something is amiss long before an actual person would ever notice. By leveraging machine learning to understand how people usually move in a space, any strange activity will be immediately flagged. Is a tag moving without the owner’s phone? This is unusual and should trigger a response. Furthermore, this is rich and valuable metadata that could be attached to video or other sources at a later date to help managers quickly pinpoint likely times where an event has occurred.
Not to mention, in an ideal set-up, once managers realize something fishy is up, they could turn on the phone's camera and immediately see what's happening.
smart_city_2

"Optimal office atmosphere" isn't always what it seems

Most smart office ideas are focused on finding the optimal temperature and keeping rooms consistently at this level. It's very focused on catering to how the people in the room feel about the atmosphere. They feel it's too hot or too bright or stuffy. In the age of data and machine learning, why stop there?
The reality is, we may not know what the optimal atmosphere is. We may think it's too cold or too stuffy, when, in fact, the problem is something else. That's why smart systems should be checking in with users to see how they're actually functioning. Using surveys or compiling data on actual output, a computer can understand the optimal atmosphere settings. Beacons can be used for their sensors or to interact with users on a regular basis as changes occur or over time, easing the burden of finding and maintaining the genuinely optimal atmosphere.
This echoes exactly what Marita Klein mentioned in our interview:

“I always think about it like the room shouldn’t want to just adjust to something like temperature or light. It should be able to tell you why you’re happy. If you say ‘today was okay, or I wasn’t so happy,’ technology can learn from you and can improve your day.”

IoT and connected solutions aren't just about the obvious "optimal temperature" or "optimal setting," because that will always vary between different settings and people. Data and machine learning will be central to making automation reflective of deeper, more difficult to quantify metrics.

Hannah Augur

Content writer / tech blogger / geek based in Berlin. Hannah reports on all things tech and has a medium-sized tolerance for buzzwords.

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    [Updated for 2020]