Collaborative Post

Beacons are making a comeback in the new normal


Do you feel anxious when watching a movie and seeing a crowded place with no one wearing a mask? We’ve had more than enough time to form new habits and behavior patterns that will heavily influence the infrastructure of public places in the long run.

Unfortunately, it’s still premature to imagine the world free of the pandemic. For this reason, public places will have to open their doors to an extremely wary audience. Here’s where good old beacons can make a difference. They promise to become an essential part of the connected world, with B2C businesses increasingly seeking help from a software development company to improve the post-pandemic customer experience.

To get a glimpse of the near future, let’s reconstruct a journey of a museum visitor as enabled by beacons and associated technologies. This journey is not limited to museums only but can be applied to brick-and-mortar stores, theaters, beauty salons, and more. One common thing all public places need to do is act now — put all their efforts into shaping experiences around customers’ needs and safety. It’s one of the key ways of surviving any crisis.

So, let’s go to a museum.

Zero-touch experience

Switching to contactless experience should be the first step for all public places. People count on smooth experiences that don’t compromise their safety. They should find themselves in a place where they have minimal inclination to touch any surface or seek human interaction.

For instance, you book a ticket via a museum’s app and use a QR code to enter the exhibition. Once you’re in, a beacon sees your phone and pushes a notification with greetings, information about open exhibitions, discounts for the museum cafe, and more.

Most probably, you won’t be happy to rent audio guides just used by other people or join guided tours for groups. With the help of beacons, a museum app can turn into your guide. Each exhibit or room can be associated with a beacon and pass curated video, audio, images and text information right into your smartphone on your request. All you need to do is approach the exhibit, find it by its ID or title, and browse available information at your pace.

You can also find your way around the building by checking your location in the app and asking for a route to the exit, a particular exhibit, or WC.

Social distancing

Beacons can be used to evaluate congestion levels in a certain area. Visitors can check in real time whether certain museum parts or cafes are crowded prior to going there. The same capability of beacons can also help museum workers to limit capacity in specific areas.

One more current concern is maintaining social distancing. With phones exchanging proximity data with devices nearby, visitors can be gently nudged to maintain safe distance in public places. With the help of Bluetooth connection, phones or wearable devices can determine the distance between people and send a signal, like vibration or a notification, when the distance is too small. As in some cases this feature can be extremely irritating and distracting, users should have a possibility to switch it off or edit settings.

Contact tracing

As you’re going to spend some time in a public place, you can opt for digital contact tracing feedback. It means that your phone will act as a beacon and exchange data with close contacts during the visit. When someone tests positive for COVID-19 after the visit, they can inform all their close contacts via the app. The contacts can see how close they were to the infected person and how long they maintained this contact. This information can help people to make a decision about isolating themselves or avoiding visiting at-risk relatives and friends.

Of course, contact tracing immediately raises privacy concerns. In reality, this feature doesn’t need to have access to any personal details as it records only specific information about close contact instances without any dependence on GPS.

For example, the COVID-19 contact tracing framework developed by Google and Apple works like that. With visitors’ consent, their phones exchange privacy-preserving anonymous identifiers with beacons. The phones securely store the list of beacons they connect to for a limited period of time (for example, for two weeks). When someone tests positive, this person’s phone enters this information into the app, which pushes the exchanged keys for their broadcast beacons to the server. Each device checks against the list of beacons from the server and notifies users if there was a chance they’ve been exposed to the virus.

Final thoughts

We will certainly return to our offline activities but it’s clear we will have to adjust our behavior in public places. Under these circumstances, beacons promise to turn into an important tool for keeping everyone safe and reacting fast to emergencies, be it in retail, health services, entertainment, or other. What every organization needs to do is act now, build experiences around their customers’ needs, and not to forget about personal data privacy.