We’ve been exploring and implementing geofencing features in our Android prototypes even before Google added geofencing support to the Android OS (official Geofencing was added via the Play Services Add-On soon after Google I/O in May ’13). One example that we showcase on conferences is the hybris Wishlist & Wallet App. We now explore Bluetooth Beacons to move to the next level of geofencing. While the geofencing we’ve explored so far was using the wifi and cell phone networks to trigger geofences based on a relatively low accuracy (e.g. 50-250 meters), we now are excited about BLE Beacons. BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) Beacons allow us to locate a device the customer is carrying up to a few meters.
Above you can see a recent prototype that we’ll soon be integrating with our other apps. A background service scans for BLE devices, filters them down to the ones we want to use for geofencing and determines the closest one. Using the BLE Beacons, we can now sense the location up to a few meters, which opens up totally new use cases for retailers. While it would be possible to provide an approximate distance in meters, we’ve created three ranges for proximity: VERY_CLOSE, CLOSE and IN_RANGE. This should be ideal for typical ecommerce in-store use cases.
The BLE devices that we have used to explore this are the TI SensorTags. These cool-looking BLE devices are have something like 6 sensors from pressure, accelerometer to humidity built in. All we really use them for is to sense the devices, filter based on the BLE names and then determine the distance. It is not a perfect solution as these devices turn off the BLE advertisements after 30 seconds, but it was enough to get started with micro geofencing and BLE.
We expect BLE beacons to become available very soon and for a very small price. Estimote is already offereing a BLE Beacon developer pack (3 Beacons, $99) for example and we expect the prices to drop sharply once the final products are on sale.
Let us know what you think – either in the Google Tech Group or via direct comments.