Hi all; I’m glad you stuck around. Things are looking up around here. So, the last time we talked, I wrote about the basic terminology and operations when it comes to Bluetooth Beacon technology. Today, let’s take it to the next level...Amazon's Echo.
BeaconGrid is all about using real-time presence data technology to improve your business. We talked briefly in the last post about how Real Time Location Systems, or RTLS, can be used for everything from managing staff, to understanding customer’s shopping patterns, to addressing safety concerns. But navigating all this data when you have it can be complicated, and trying to use new technologies and platforms can sometimes feel like you’re taking on more stress than you’re relieving.
Fortunately, presence data from BeaconGrid infrastructure can be easily integrated with one of the most intuitive, user-friendly personal assistant AI’s on the market: Amazon’s Alexa.
Alexa is, in essence, a friendly robot who communicates with the other smart devices in a specific area, as well as the internet, to help a person solve problems and get things done. She’s primarily associated with the Amazon Echo products, but Amazon Fire products and some third-party devices are Alexa-enabled as well. All you have to do is ask her questions and make requests, as easily as you might talk to a human personal assistant, and she’ll fulfil the task.
Alexa can do a lot of things. She can operate your smart devices, set timers, answer trivia questions and math problems, and even tell jokes. But, when it comes to actual presence or location data, she really falls short. For example, if you’re inside a building, ask her to tell you where you are.
You: Alexa, where am I?
Alexa: You are 0.08 miles 0.13 KM south of the center of [mt vernon square].
She's giving you a location based on GPS coordinates; and, frustratingly, often those may be incorrect.
This is where BeaconGrid comes in. We can enable a dispatachable location, which would include things like address, floor, and room. If your building is equipped with low-cost BeaconGrid technology, here’s what happens instead.
You: Hey, Alexa, ask BeaconGrid, where am I?
Alexa: You are at [your location, address, and floor number]
Exactly what you needed to know!
Although, okay, obviously some of you are thinking, “Um, I think I already know where I am. Why wouldn’t I know where I am?” Yeah, same here. So what’s a much more likely use of the product will go something like this:
You: Alexa, ask BeaconGrid, where is Dr. Smith?
Alexa: Dr. Smith is on the 12th floor of McAllister Hall.
Or something like:
You: Alexa, ask BeaconGrid, how many people are in the ballroom?
Alexa: There are 115 people in the ballroom.
You see where this is going now?
With BeaconGrid and Alexa, it becomes easy to manage a large campus, like a hospital or University, because you can be easily aware of where all your employees and assets are at all times. You can also track occupancy in any beaconized room from anywhere you and your Echo are, which can be useful if the space has a mandatory maximum occupancy for safety reasons, or if you want to know which rooms in a multi-room building are most frequently used. Having reliable occupancy data over time can also help you plan upgrades or adjustments to your building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, as more highly populated rooms might require less heat, but more ventilation, in order to maintain a comfortable atmosphere.
So, how does this all work?
Well, first, a BeaconGrid system has to be installed in the buildings that you want to monitor. This consists of installing the outlets and plugs that were mentioned in the previous post, which are capable of both sensing and beaconing (that is, sending and receiving data).
Then, any individual you want to know the exact location of--your Dr. Smith, in our example--will be given a card or a ring. Cards and rings can be associated with a specific identity by using the BeaconGrid dashboard. The cards and rings, then, broadcast a message everywhere they go: “I am Dr. Smith.” Whichever plug or outlet Dr. Smith is nearest then picks up this broadcast and notes the information. Essentially, the plug or outlet thinks, upon receiving this message, “Dr. Smith is near me, the plug in room 129, which is the Anderson Room on the 12th floor of the Johnson Memorial Library.”
This means when you ask BeaconGrid-enabled Alexa, “Where is Dr. Smith?” Alexa asks all the sensing devices (the plugs and outlets) “Where is Dr. Smith?” and the plug or outlet nearest Dr. Smith says, “Here.” (We also use AI models to study historical patterns to improve the accuracy of that answer.)
Similarly, if you want to know how many people are in a room, and the room is beaconized, the sensing devices can count and track how many BLE devices (such as smartphones, BeaconGrid cards and rings, fitbits, or similar products) are in the room and report back to Alexa.
Alexa can communicate with BeaconGrid systems because we created the BeaconGrid GridScan Webhook APIs to allow Alexa to communicate with the plugs and outlets. An API is an Application Interface, and it is simply a means of sending and receiving data between two organizations’ products that ensures that the data is approved by you, the end user, rather than anything harmful or malicious. So, for example, an app on a smartphone, like the Kindle app or a music streaming app, has an API that allows it to communicate with the software on your phone, even though the phone software isn’t made by the same company that makes the app.
Using Alexa’s SDK--her Software Development Kit, you can also create the BeaconGrid skill. This is a way to teach Alexa skills that she doesn’t already have; in this case, we’ve taught her the skill of sensing presence by interacting with the BeaconGrid infrastructure. Once your building is beaconized, downloading this new skill, the GridScan API, should be easy. Then, when everything is set up in the building itself, and everyone’s cards and rings are associated with the correct identities, you should be good to go.
So, here are three thoughts I want to leave you with, and one question.
1. Echoes and other Alexa-enabled devices are getting more and more popular; some hotels nowadays boast an Echo in every room!
2. At the same time, presence data is becoming increasingly important to safety, and even vital, to managing and running large workplaces and campuses.
3. BeaconGrid is the ONLY infrastructure presence-sensing system that currently interfaces with Alexa.