Automatic Link has added Bluetooth LE functionality in the latest update to its ‘smart driving assistant’ and while it might be mostly a novelty at first it hints at a future in which beacons aren’t just confined to the walls of your local mall.
By embedding a Bluetooth LE beacon in the Automatic Link device, your car becomes a moving beacon. Drive by a toll booth with a beacon ‘receiver’ (an iPad, say) and you can automatically pay the fee.
Automatic sees an ecosystem of beacon ‘receivers’ waiting for your car to arrive:
Say you’re leaving a parking garage and instead of stopping to pay an attendant with your credit card, Automatic wirelessly signals the gate that you’re there using iBeacon, deducts the necessary funds from a credit card linked to your Automatic account, and opens the gate.
The same system could work for toll booths, repair shops, parking meters, car washes, gas stations, and so on.
While exactly the same thing could be accomplished by turning on the iBeacon functionality of your iPhone, the advantage of Automatic is that the device is always on, it’s always sending out a Bluetooth LE signal, and the signal is more reliable when transmitting from your dashboard than from your purse or pocket.
iOS in the Car – and the Looming War With Android
In the first major update since the launch of iOS7, Apple is expected to unlock iOS in the Car when it releases the version 7.1.
Developers already have a hint at what it will look like, and one of them leaked a video of what they were able to hack together using the available APIs in the Beta version.
However, the true power of iOS in the Car is expected to primarily be made available to auto partners that include Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Ferrari, Infiniti, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo, Acura, Jaguar, Opel, and Chevrolet.
With Apple heavily backing iBeacon and the Bluetooth LE specification, it won’t be long before the car itself will have a beacon built in – bypassing the need to purchase a special stand-alone unit. Not to be outdone, Google has taken its own swipe at the connected car, creating the Open Automotive Alliance with Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai on board.
(On an editorial note, I’ve often wondered why Google aligns itself to terms like “open” and “open source” when it’s crown jewels are about as closed and locked down as you can imagine).
iBeacon Everywhere: It’s What You’re Close to That Counts
Regardless of whether the beacon is Apple or Android flavored, whether it sits on the dashboard or is built into your engine block, the idea of Bluetooth LE-enabled cars is a reminder: everything is a digital interface and beacons don’t just belong on a wall.
Beacons in the car take the idea of ‘mobile beacons’ to a different level, perhaps, but they also remind us that not every experience built around iBeacon technology needs to “push”.
What’s notable about all of these examples? None of them are about location. They’re about proximity.
And as we start to see innovative use cases in the world of beacons we’re reminded that while it’s often useful to know where you are on a map – it’s what you’re close to that’s going to truly matter in this next era of contextual computing.