Bluetooth Just Got A Little Faster and A Lot Safer

Read original story on: Ars Technica

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has approved a new version of the Bluetooth standard. Besides improved speed and support for IPv6 and 6LoWPAN, Bluetooth 4.2 also adds new security features preventing unauthorized users from hacking your Bluetooth signal and using it to track your phone and devices as you move about, a clear attempt to address privacy concerns.

UN Exhibit Uses BLE to Demonstrate The Danger of Landmines

A one-day exhibit at the New Museum in New York City and sponsored by the United Nations Mine Action Service sought to educate the public about the dangers and horrors of landmines throughout the world. What made this exhibit unique was its use of a mobile app and BLE beacons (aka “iBeacons”) to power the experience.

Users were encouraged to download an app ahead of time called “Sweeper“. From the start screen you can proceed with the experience or learn more about landmines. If you choose to start, you are told to walk around the exhibit.

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The exhibit was arranged with large scale photographs of landmine victims, as well as small informational stations about different types of landmines typical across the world.




Visitors were encouraged to wear headphones. If they didn’t have their own, headphones were provided. Every few feet, when the user entered the range of a particular BLE beacon, the user would hear an explosion, and a voice would explain that you had just stepped on a landmine. The voice would proceed to describe the horrific injuries you have received and the extent to which you have been killed or maimed. Lastly, it went on to describe the overall threat of landmines across the world and how they represent a terrible threat to civilians. On the app, when a landmine is encountered, it shows the type of landmine that you encountered and offered the opportunity to share the event socially to Facebook or Twitter. It also had a prominent button allowing you to donate to the cause of ridding the world of landmines.

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The beacons were not coordinated with the explanatory signage, so there was no telling which landmine you were about to come upon. The beacons themselves were sourced from Roximity and worked fairly well. A staffer mentioned that they tuned the app to listen for the beacons at medium range. Too short a range would not trigger the “explosions” unless you were extremely close to the beacons. If the range were too large, the beacons could trigger before the guests even got off the elevator. It is a testament to the fact that with current technology, deploying a BLE beacon-based campaign includes a bit of art as well as science.

iBeacons Solve The Microlocation Problem

Location-based services have been in existence for quite some time, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some serious improvements. If you want to share your location today, you can use GPS and wifi which work to a point, but certainly have their drawbacks. Just think about that time you stood paralyzed on the corner trying to decipher that blue dot on Apple maps before turning left or right. Well, a new feature rolling out in iOS 7 appears to solve that problem, and a few others.

Named iBeacon, Apple’s new feature will make use of Bluetooth Low Energy to send data to phones over short distances, approximately 10-50 ft in range. Using low cost energy emitters from companies like Estimote, companies will be able to deliver contextual data to phones within apps integrating iBeacon’s SDK. The result has many use cases, but the most groundbreaking being indoor mapping, which has been a tough nut to crack for retailers worldwide. Because of its improved location data, retailers will be able to identify where a shopper is, down to the aisle to guide them through the store. Beyond navigation, retailers will also be able to deliver hypertargeted offers and messaging. For instance, if a retailers sees that a shopper has been near the deli aisle too long, why not give them an offer for condiments. Take the big data and run with it. Other use cases range from mobile payments to more precise social check-ins.

Recent buzz around iBeacon has also pointed out its potential to supplant NFC and QR codes which have been used to forge a physical/digital connection albeit with less market penetration and greater cost. That said, tech like NFC will still have it’s unique capabilities as it provides connectivity at the product level, something that cannot be said from BLE.

Despite all of the tremendous benefits of iBeacons, privacy concerns cannot be overlooked which may explain why Apple has been conspicuously quiet about this feature in the iOS 7 announcements.  The data accessible through this rollout would give developers a tremendous amount of data, like precisely how long you spent in the bathroom at JC Penney.  As always, it is less about the data and more about how you use it, so let’s hope that marketers and app developers are smart about how they communicate this information with their users.