How Tough Beacon Can Extend Your Indoor Wayfinding to Challenging Environments

2 December 2020

As their name suggests indoor wayfinding systems are designed to work best indoors. Offices, hospitals, warehouses, etc provide a generally stable environment free of extremes of temperature and humidity and sheltered from the rain. Beacon technology is designed to run in these stable environments, to allow for wayfinding where line of sight to a satellite is not possible and in complex indoor environments where walls and furniture can often degrade signals.

However, sometimes you might want to extend your indoor wayfinding outdoors, without switching to GPS, or handle wayfinding in tougher surroundings such as some industrial environments, where conditions might not be ideal for electronic devices. If this is your goal, our Tough Beacon is the ideal solution. The Tough Beacon runs on the same technology as our Beacon Pro, and is compatible with BLE, iBeacon, and Eddystone.


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The Challenge of Indoor Wayfinding Technology in Harsh Environments

Indoor wayfinding involves the use of beacons and a mobile app. These beacons are small transmitters that are mounted in convenient locations and communicate with a user's smartphone. Because they are designed for indoor use, however, they have challenges.

The casing on our Beacon Pro is IP-54, which means the beacons will resist dust, but not completely keep it out, and can handle splashed water, but not heavy rain, which makes it a better choice for indoor environments. They cannot always handle temperature extremes and melting snow can easily get through the case and damage the sensitive electronics inside.

For many uses, this is not a problem. The beacons are well protected in indoor, climate-controlled environments designed for the comfort of humans, and generally only get damaged in the rare event of a fire or accident. However, sometimes you need real-time tracking solutions in tough environments such as factories and commercial kitchens, or you need to extend an indoor wayfinding system into an outdoor area with the same technology, level of granularity, and user interface. For these use cases, you need a different solution, a beacon that is designed to operate in these environments without being degraded or damaged.

That solution is our Tough Beacon.

What Does Tough Beacon Offer?

Tough Beacon offers the same technology as our Beacon Pro, using the same microcontroller, and offering the same range and sensitivity. This allows you to make a solid wayfinding grid at an affordable price. It has a battery life of 80 months, at (Tx=-12dBm; interval: 350ms) with batteries that are easily user-replaceable. These beacons provide all of the indoor wayfinding and asset tracking capabilities you might be familiar with from our other products.

However, it has a key difference—a rugged protective case. The case on Tough Beacon is IP-65, which means it is completely dustproof and can resist heavy rain. It is flame-resistant up to fire class UL 94 HB, reducing the chance of beacons being destroyed in smaller fires. It can handle temperatures that range from -4F to +140F. These beacons can thus be used outdoors in all but the most extreme environments and remain unaffected by rain, snow, and sun. They have all the features of our other beacons, just in a tougher package.

Because they use the same technology, you can easily combine Beacon Pro and Tough Beacon in the same installation, which is useful for, say, museums that have outdoor exhibits or sculpture gardens that they want on the same proximity content solution. This allows for a seamless transition for employees and visitors between different parts of the facility. Switching between BLE and GPS can inevitably result in hiccups that might be noticeable to users. It also requires more coding for application developers.

Like our Beacon Pro, the Tough Beacon can be ordered with preconfigured profiles and custom labels to speed deployment and ensure beacons are moved to the right location. It is easy to mount and move and can be positioned easily wherever you might need it.

There are two very solid use cases for Tough Beacon.

Industrial Asset Tracking

Industrial asset tracking allows for improved production processes by following order flow and finding bottlenecks in the system. Assets can be monitored as they move through the process. By using Tough Beacon, you can safely monitor assets even when they are in areas that are not safe for human workers. You can use a mix of Beacon Pro and Tough Beacon to optimize your budget while ensuring that beacons are not damaged by temperature or accidents, and are not degraded or damaged by the inevitable dust that is produced in production environments.

You also need a decent range and smooth transition from indoor to outdoor tracking, which at the local level involves extending the beacon grid outdoors, where normal beacons are vulnerable to the elements. High levels of dust and particulates in the air are also often present in loading docks and similar areas, even when they are sheltered from the weather. Dust blows in and is then kicked up by vehicles and workers, and it is very hard to keep these areas consistently clean. This allows for tracking of assets through the production line and onto the truck without any gaps in the process and without having to repeatedly replace damaged beacons.

Real time tracking is a key part of the industrial IoT as we move into the future and towards factories which track both production and employees and are optimized to produce and move goods quickly, smoothly, and predictably.

Indoor Navigation in Challenging Environments

Beacon-based indoor navigation is designed to work when GPS does not. However, that is not always good enough. People may need to navigate through outdoor areas, low temperatures, areas where water is an issue, etc, with the same granularity used in indoor wayfinding. GPS is often not precise enough for environments such as museums, zoos, theme parks, and outdoor malls. For both wayfinding and proximity content, BLE-based systems are much more efficient and are more user-friendly than older QR-based signage that requires specific action on the part of the user.

In theme parks, for example, visitors may want to find attractions, avoid lines, meet with performers, etc. However, beacons are going to be outdoors, near water rides, etc, where normal beacons would rapidly degrade. An advantage of Bluetooth-based tracking is that visitors can be given badges and wristbands as an alternative to using their phones. This is again particularly valuable for theme parks and zoos, where tracking bracelets can be given to children too young to carry a phone and then used to locate them if they become separated from their family.

Even indoors, low temperatures, high levels of condensation, and above all dust can degrade and affect the performance of beacons. Identifying these environments is a challenge when deploying installations that cross a variety of environments, but our professional team can help you decide which locations will benefit from Tough Beacons. For example, the improved waterproofing might make Tough Beacons more useful in an area prone to condensation, such as a walk-in cooler. Using Tough Beacons helps you ensure that your real time location solutions will survive contact with the proverbial enemy in the form of difficult situations, minor accidents, and weather.

Using the Tough Beacon and Managing Your Devices

Like the Beacon Pro, the Tough Beacon works with our IoT Device Management software. This is particularly useful for larger environments as it allows you to bulk program all of the beacons over the air and reduces the amount of physical checking of beacons needed. The software will tell you if beacons are running low on battery thus allowing you to check and replace only the beacons that need it rather than having to do frequent checks.

Our IoT Device Management software is also designed to prevent your network from being hijacked and monitor your entire site for problems. It will also notify you if a beacon is removed or damaged, and you can receive those alerts by a variety of means. All of this means that you can manage your beacon network easily, without having to go out into the rain or shut down a production line so you can safely check beacons. Firmware updates are pushed automatically, ensuring your network remains secure and can't be hijacked.

The Tough Beacon is a great solution for any use case where you are using beacons in a more challenging environment or outdoors e.g. train station. It has the same range and programmability as our Beacon Pro, but a tougher case that supports its use in difficult environments.

Contact us today to talk about your project with Tough Beacon.

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Aneta Ciurkot

Director, Product Marketing

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