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Nearables Wearables: Connecting Beacons with Smartwatches for Indoor Positioning

Posted by October 6, 2015
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Beacons are great for indoor positioning, but Estimote took them one step further with nearables. One can say the step is towards IoT-ization of simple objects, and we were excited to see how far they can go. This article is all about squeezing the juice out of Estimote Nearables and combining them with mobile & wearable tech to see how they would perform in real life situations.

nearables wearables

Tracking people’s movement. Old problem, new technology.

We chose tracking people’s movement as the use case for running our experiment. In reality it’s not as creepy as it sounds. Big offices often face the difficulty of locating and finding employees within the building, especially if they are busy with lots of meetings and rarely stick to their desk. Sure, you can use the magic of mobile phones to find a person, but not everyone carries their phone around and interfering in meetings with phone call is plain rude. It would be much easier to just know where you can find the person to solve a critical issue in a brief personal conversation. Even though this case looks more like a traditional beacon one rather than a job for nearables, we chose it simply because we faced a similar problem of finding the necessary people in our five-story office building with 600 employees. We also wanted our experimental app to lay ground for statistical analysis and future optimization of employee location inside a company.

At ELEKS, we don’t think much of hackneyed solutions, so the idea of connecting nearables with phones was rejected at once. Instead, we decided to use smartwatches (both Android Wear and Apple Watch) as target devices for tracking. This basically means that the smartwatch will be disconnected from the phone and the app will be 100% standalone. Another reason for choosing smartwatches is simply to see if it’s actually possible, considering the limitations of smartwatches like Bluetooth Low Energy API, HTTP transport, background services, etc.

The idea is simple: we would stick nearables near the key spots of the office like exits, elevators, kitchens, gym, etc. Every nearable’s UUID would be linked with a certain place. Meanwhile, employees would install the application on their smartwatches and register (which, of course, requires accepting an agreement). That would be the only interaction required from a user.

The application would primarily have the following functions:

  • Logging in (on the phone)
  • Allowing a background service that would interact with discovered beacons (on the smartwatch)
  • Sending UUIDs received from the nearables discovered in range (along with UserID and the current time) (on the smartwatch)
  • Displaying recent locations of other employees based on the server’s data (Favorites on both smartwatch and phone, all employees – on the phone)

Additional functionality would include

  • Marking certain employees as favorites to keep information about the people you need to catch up with most often separately (on the phone)
  • Searching for people by name (on the phone)

 More about technical aspects and how it actually worked you may learn here:

http://elekslabs.com/2015/09/nearables-wearables-connecting-beacons-with-smartwatches.html

Summary

Our experiment with nearables left us with mixed feelings. We weren’t impressed with the results. Mainly because, even though the nearables were located with no significant delay in time, the distance to the object has to be no longer than 1 meter, otherwise it wouldn’t get recognized. But if you think about it, on the estimote.com website the beacon stickers are in the “Waiting for certificates” status, and we were lucky enough to get them now. We also used early versions of the SDK (the first version for Android) and probably a lot of its issues have already been fixed and features improved in later versions. One thing we can say for sure: beacons are an amazing technology that has all the potential needed to become huge in the future.

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