14th March 2017

Bluetooth beacons in the cultural sector

John Ennew
Technical Director

We’ve been experimenting with beacons at Deeson recently. Bluetooth beacons transmit a signal identifying themselves to nearby mobile devices. A network of beacons can provide a mobile application with information about a person’s location inside a building.

Once you know a person’s location you can then trigger events based on where they are. 

In action

For example, you can provide them with content from a content management system, such as Drupal. In a museum or art gallery where wall space is limited, this allows information about the object to be fed directly to their phone.

Another use could be a 'personal collection' to record the works of art the person viewed whilst at the gallery. This would allow them to find out more about the pieces at home and plan another visit to see related pieces.

Personalisation during the visit to a venue can also help with engagement. We could imagine content being supplied that is relevant to the age and interests of the individual, allowing for example, a school group studying a particular area of history to enjoy a customised experience within a venue, rather than having to hunt for the details most relevant to them from the generic information displayed to everyone.

The Guggenheim have added the functionality to their app after a successful trial.

The tech behind it

The kit we were experimenting with was from beacon supplier, Estimote. They provide four levels of beacon. The location beacon allows for long range position within a building, the proximity beacon and sticker allows more accurate positioning at short range.

Their most recent product is called the video beacon. This plugs into the HDMI port of a display screen, allowing content to appear on the screen based on the person closest to it. This means content is displayed on big screens, rather than having to look at your mobile as you get close to something.

bluetooth beacon

The company supplies a full software development kit (SDK) making sophisticated integrations possible. With a couple of hours' effort, we created a proof of concept with a simple mobile app, pulling content from a remote content repository based on the closest beacon.

In order to detect the Bluetooth beacons, the software we write must be able to access the Bluetooth on your mobile device. Unfortunately, this presently means we can’t just add the functionality directly to a website, as web browsers do not allow access to a device’s Bluetooth. Right now you need an app level interface to do this.

The SDK provides JavaScript libraries, meaning we were able to use them within the PhoneGap framework to build an app for the purposes of the proof of concept.

What next?

Beacons give us the ability to track an individual inside a building. This and other emerging mobile technologies like chatbots, means that we can build interesting and personalised experiences for that person as they move about a building, based on the information we have about them. The more personal the experience, the more likely the individual is to engage with what is being offered, both now and in the future.