Kontakt.io is finally shipping its Cloud Beacon developer kits – and the little units pack a powerful punch.
Their Cloud Beacon is one of a suite of emerging technologies that support large-scale beacon deployments. They help overcome issues with security, monitoring, management and quality assurance and bring proximity technology to an industrial-scale/enterprise-grade level which may soon make them as ubiquitous as smoke detectors in some businesses.
What Cloud Beacon Solves
Some days it feels like we’ve been, well, plugging away at beacons for years. And yet the technology has only really started moving past pilots and tests in the past 6-12 months.
Even many of the large-scale deployments have been single beacon installations – chains of stores with a beacon at the front door triggering a push message or interaction when you arrive.
And one of the rate-limiting factors has been management, security and ‘data at scale’.
The approach of the beacon manufacturers has ranged from treating beacons as relatively disposable end points (they’re relatively cheap for the power they pack, so you can afford to deploy them, remove them, and then deploy more), to cloud-based solutions which use the end user’s phone to complete management tasks as a sort of hidden payload (for example, run a quick check of the beacon’s battery in the background of a user’s app).
For security, beacon companies have either randomized the ID numbers that beacons broadcast, provided on-site management tools which require a management app (and some staff), or encapsulated the beacon access in the app-side SDK.
In other words, there are lots of solutions to some of the most vexing challenges with beacons, especially if you plan to deploy them at scale:
- Create enough randomization or security so that your beacons can’t be hijacked
- Be able to change the UUIDs and broadcast information of your beacon (or use cloud-based services) so that you can provide different access abilities to different apps at different times
- Monitor the battery levels of your beacons so that they don’t go “dark”
Beacons Are An Internet End Point
The solution of Kontakt.io is to treat beacons as another Internet end point.
Their belief is that a beacon is just another ‘dumb transmitter’ if it’s simply sitting on a shelf broadcasting a signal. If your app is doing all the work of connecting to and managing the beacon, it’s one step removed from the Internet of Things.
By connecting beacons to a little mini hub, we start to unlock the first step in a larger series of values which come from being a node that’s directly connected to the Internet rather than through the proxy of an app or mobile device.
What Cloud Beacon Does
Put a cloud beacon in your store or factory and it can “talk” to beacons within 200 meters. By being able to do so, it can:
- Check their power levels
- Update their firmware
- Swap, change, rotate or update their broadcast packets (UUIDs, frequency, RSSI and other data)
- Make sure they’re still online
The Cloud Beacon can do so because it has the capacity to couple with the beacons in its vicinity and then “call home” via WiFi. You can toggle the frequency with which it calls home and manage the cloud beacon itself much as you manage a beacon’s advertising intervals and settings to conserve power.
Packing additional punch, the Cloud Beacon also does passive WiFi monitoring to detect the presence of mobile devices in the vicinity. For data-conscious enterprise, this allows a more thorough data set of visitors – telling you, for example, that there were 1,000 visitors to your store and that 10% had a beacon-enabled app.
The Magic of Connected Spaces
But I think where Cloud Beacon, and other technologies like it, get their magic is that, first, they advance the ability of beacons to be deployed at scale. It isn’t always feasible to have staff checking your beacons across a chain of 1,000 stores, and holding that capacity within the payload of a user or administrative app has its drawbacks.
But Cloud Beacon represents the larger move to an Internet of Things in which relatively dumb and simple devices are nodes in a larger web of connected devices.
As beacons evolve to include mesh capabilities, to carry more data, to connect with more things, the concept of connected spaces won’t be enabled by single devices but by a cloud of services and gizmos each serving a purpose within the larger task of making the physical world a digital interface.
Share Your Thoughts
Have you received your Cloud Beacon developer kit yet? What do you think? What other solutions do you think are rising to the top for fleet management and beacon deployments?