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Incorporating location into the IoT experience

The internet of things is all about connecting people and things and enabling objects to be sensed and/or controlled remotely across any network infrastructure. In a business environment, that often means smarter control of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, lights, security cameras, etc. — resulting in huge efficiencies and cost savings.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a relatively new technology used in enterprises, hospitals, stores, hotels, etc. for indoor location services. BLE enables contextual engagement with mobile users, such as turn-by-turn directions across a campus and proximity-based messages. It can also be used to track strategic assets (for example, wheelchairs, pallets and forklifts) and people (e.g., children and patients).

BLE is becoming very prevalent in IoT to create some amazing experiences. Below are three real-world examples:

  • Motion sensors can be used in hospitals with BLE-enabled infusion pumps to determine with a high degree of certainty if those devices are located inside (or outside) clean rooms, indicating whether or not they are clean or dirty.
  • BLE-enabled defibrillators can be tracked throughout a mall, triggering local security cameras to monitor the situation and dispatch emergency responders as needed.
  • Thermostats in a conference room can be adjusted based on the temperature preferences of the attendees in the room.

How does it work?

Modern wireless access points (AP) are equipped with BLE antenna arrays that can receive signals (i.e,. beacons) from BLE-enabled devices, such as smartwatches, Fitbits, headsets, badges or tags. From a client device perspective, Google and Apple announced Eddystone and iBeacon as open protocols that use BLE to engage, enabling iOS and Android devices to scan for BLE signals. APs then leverage machine learning in the cloud to determine the location of those devices based on path loss formulas and probability surfaces, and can now deliver contextual services and information for those client devices.

These APs also have a port that can be used to send/receive inputs to/from IoT devices. This creates a common point of convergence for both mobile devices and IoT objects, enabling BLE location data to be used for smarter IoT event handling. This, of course, assumes that intelligent workflows are built on top of the infrastructure to apply the right actions to the information received.

(It is worthwhile to point out that modern access points also support Wi-Fi. In other words, Wi-Fi connectivity, BLE location and IoT can all be integrated together into a common network infrastructure for even greater functionality and cost savings. But for the purpose of this article, we are focusing just on the advantages of using BLE and IoT together.)

As devices become smarter and more connected, it is only natural that location enters into the equation for better contextual experiences. With new wireless networks that support BLE and IoT, this is finally possible today.

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