beacon near copier
iBeacon in Accessibility, iBeacon Technology, iBeacon Uses

Micro-location as an accessibility opportunity

Microlocation has begun to enter mainstream consciousness.  A micro location technology that is not designed to track a person yet allows to determine your proximity. This is not a creepy google glass invasion, iBeacons, at least as they currently deployed, do not track you, you track them. This is fantastic news for people with navigation needs such as the visually impaired. Sadly, there has been little discussion or use-case work on how it could be incorporated into being effective indoor navigation. Being able to discover what is around you on a reliable basis is a big promise of the internet of everything, combined with services that allow you to opt-into would allow users to know the state of objects or services.

iBeacon does not carry payload, if the operator allows its position to be mapped you can know with a high degree of accuracy where you are—an iBeacon will not tell you your are standing next to the men’s bathroom. However, taking the next step with the user subscribing to a “location” content service the user could elect to find nearby bathrooms, or simply room numbers. Additional information a user may opt into could be status changes, so when a bathroom is out of operation the operator would simply stick up a virtual yellow sign saying “Out of order” much as is done now physically.

Extra work for personnel?, In some ways yes, but identifying such status information in a BIM scenario also allows building administration to be informed of the “out-of-order” bathroom status. So now we have a use case scenario that not only aids a visually impaired individual to locate and determine status but the building operator is also aware of  the building state. Awareness has multiple benefits, some are obvious to the operator/owner of the iBeacon others could be as valuable to other users as long as the information’s not locked away or provided to you if you surrender your anonymity.

The anonymity aspect is important. Users should not be obligated to use a “store app” and be logged in to obtain location positioning and subsequent navigational information. User should not be subject to the “notified of special offers” or other marketing payloads or tracking unless they opt into that component.

The iBeacon is about being able to broadcast cheaply the location of an object. Lets hope that as part of this awareness Apple ensures that services also share socially relevant information.

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iBeacon in Accessibility, iBeacon Technology, iBeacon Uses

Using iBeacon in Different Settings

Is iBeacon living up to it’s full potential?

iBeacon is considered “the indoor GPS”. It is an indoor positioning system that allows you to connect to it with your Apple of android device and then use it as an extremely accurate and precise GPS. iBeacon has the potential to unlock doors upon approach, notify you if your bike or car is no longer in the garage, give you tours of museums, locate restrooms or buildings, and notify you of your surrent location in relation to your final destination. iBeacon has most commonly been used to provide shoppers with coupons, deals, and shopping suggestions based on the popular consumer preference, but is iBeacon progressing in the most beneficial direction, which is to help the disabled?

iBeacon and non-retail settings

iBeacon has been used a location tool in parking garages to help people find their cars, the exit, and the entrances to buildings. If someone who is in a wheelchair can’t remember what floor they parked on, the specific location of their car, or their hearing aids, it may be very hard for them to navigate around in order to find it. That is where iBeacon comes in. Its ability to pinpoint specifically, down to inches, a range of things all the way from a car down to a tiny hearing aid, is revolutionary. iBeacon has the potential to help the visualy impaired locate certain buildings and even elevators or restrooms in the buildings. With the accuracy that iBeacon is capeable of, it could drastically change the lives of those who are visually impaired. Unfortunately, the main use right now for the iBeacon is simply to benefit consumers at retail stores. Although iBeacon’s obvious perks are things like cars and buildings, the most amazing capability is the ability to locate things such as hearing aids. Those are things that are often misplaced, and if an individual is visually impaired, they would be difficult to locate.

iBeacon in the retail setting

In the retail setting, those who are visually impaired could be easily guided to specific locations for specific product. There is also the potential for iBeacon to link with motorized wheelchair ramps that lower when you approach them and arms on shelves that can lower product down to those who are disabled. iBeacon can also direct users to where a product is located. This would come in handy when in a lage warehouse like Costco to assist people with disabilities who have a difficult time maneuvering from place to place.

 

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iBeacon in Accessibility, iBeacon Technology, iBeacon Uses

Buy-In for Micro-Location Accessibility

You are out on a late summer evening running some errands. The Reno night air is cool against your skin and the bustling noises of the passing traffic tickles your ears. You need to catch a bus to the third terminal on Virginia Street in order to reach your next destination. Unfortunately though, the micro-location transmitters you were using a moment ago to navigate, being that you are a visually impaired individual, are no longer available. They have not been installed in this particular location. It seems now that catching your bus will be just as tricky as old times…

One of the downfalls of the new iBeacon operating system in terms of its possible use for micro-location accessibility is that it requires a large amount of public buy-in, both through community commitment and partnership. Since the technology seems to be currently aimed at promoting retail endeavors, the operating system is only available in participating venues thus far. Perhaps even the technology has been installed on university campuses, in museums, or in theme parks in order to allow for ease of use, which further extends its coverage boarders. However, the coverage of iBeacon and Bluetooth 4.0 technology is still far from universal.

This is a barrier to the use and promotion of the new iBeacon technology in micro-location accessibility. The community will need to come together, forging a conversation regarding the future uses of the iBeacon technology system. This is the only way that mico-location accessibility through the iBeacon operating system will be made possible.

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iBeacon in Accessibility, iBeacon Technology, iBeacon Uses

iBeacon at a Glance

Picture of iOS 7 iBeacon device

Apple iBeacon device used for micro-location

Apple technologies such as Google Maps and FourSquare have long used location data to enhance the average user’s mobile experience. However, that is just the beginning, where Bluetooth’s latest technology “revolutionizes how people interact with everyday objects and place.”

Using the latest iOS7 software as a platform, Apple created iBeacon which utilizes Bluetooth 4.0, a location based technology. The iBeacon operating system allows sensors to detect the exact presence of a phone, within inches of accuracy. Since the unveiling of the technology in the summer of 2013, Apple has stated that its new operating system has the potential to “provide apps a whole new level of location awareness.”

iBeacon is currently being implemented mainly as a marketing tool, although the possibilities appear endless. Through the use of an application specific to a retail store, the consumer can receive up to date coupons and promotions based on their exact location in the store. For example, iBeacon technology would allow a store to track the location of a customer say in the wine isle, offering them a push notification containing a coupon for a Cabernet Sauvignon. Macy’s has recently piloted the technology in a few stores nationwide and found it to be a successful tool.

Other clever uses of iBeacon Technology can be found in this Washington Post article.

But what if the technology, which locates an individual’s exact location using their mobile device, were used to assist the visually impaired? Micro-location, through the iBeacon operating system, has the potential to unlock doors to promote independence through accurate and user-friendly accessibility.

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