A beacon is a piece of equipment drawing attention to a specific location – generally, the location of the beacon itself. It is meant to indicate that something is there which requires attention. Take, for instance, lighthouses that illustrate the location of a harbor, or buoys that indicate shallow water. Or, for that matter, take the emergency lights on a police car, which could be considered beacons as well.
The important thing is that beacons do not actually “do” anything; their sole job is to draw attention to a specific object or location. By now, the idea of devices that advertize a certain location has penetrated the digital world. For years now, we have had devices that do not do anything but propagate a location. These so-called “beacons” talk to – say – cellphones and indicate that something is happening at the location signaled by the beacon.
And that is all they do. Just like lighthouses only signal, “I, the Vlieland lighthouse, am located here,” beacons do exactly the same. In the case of a beacon, such signaling literally consists of the beacon emitting a certain identification code (the UUID) and two subvalues: the Major ID and the Minor ID. The last two can be used to indicate sublocations (e.g., the exact department within a department store).
To be able to use the signals emitted by beacons, cellphones must be equipped with a specific application. The presence of beacons does not suddenly allow your phone to be remotely controlled or your private data to be transmitted to the owner of the beacons. Again, the only thing beacons do is announce their presence.
There are great examples of applications that use the fact that your cell phone “knows” where you are to their advantage. After all, your phone can determine your exact location on the basis of your position in relation to at least three beacons. This is not just of interest to department stores. For instance, during the 2015 Sail Amsterdam event, the organizers presented an app for cellphones that showed visitors specific information on whatever ship they happened to be facing at any given time. The crucial thing is that even more specific information can now be delivered to a user’s specific device at the exact moment when the user needs it. For example, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is conducting extensive experiments involving beacons so as to provide travelers with the latest information on aspects such as waiting times at the various security gates, as well as offering them a cup of coffee.
We took our time thinking this matter over. Of course, there are plenty of good applications for beacons, but an obvious application would be to relate it to warehouses, which are by definition places where people work with physical locations. At any rate, all goods stored in a warehouse are painstakingly recorded and placed at a certain corresponding spot in the ERP system. No matter what type of transaction you are conducting in the warehouse management system, at some point you will be asked for a location. What if your scanning device already knew this location and had known it all along? In such cases, transactions would no longer have to include a dialog indicating whereabouts in the warehouse the transaction was conducted.
That is exactly what we did in this proof of concept. We linked three beacons (called mint, ice and blueberry) in a logical manner to a specific location in the ERP system. When you so much as approach one of these beacons, a basic cellphone application will call up how many items of a certain product are available at that particular location. As you can see in the video, all you need to do is hold your phone near a particular beacon. After the application has detected the beacon, it will use the standard integration services in the ERP system (the Application Integration Server) to indicate how many items of Product No. 220 are available in warehouse M30 at the location represented by the beacon.
For what it is worth, the implementation of such an application only takes a matter of hours, not days. Because of the advanced integration layer in Oracle JDEdwards ERP (in which every transaction basically constitutes an API), and because of the available beacons and extensions for the mobile platform which allow users to access – say – Estimote beacons, such solutions can be made available to pretty much anyone in little to no time.
"What would happen if your applications became aware of their exact physical locations?"
 Read more at http://www.beaconsandwich.com/what-is-ibeacon.html.
For instance, see https://www.emerce.nl/achtergrond/ibeacon-volop-gebruikt-sail-amsterdam.
More on Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and its beacons: https://news.schiphol.com/amsterdam-airport-schiphol-first-airport-in-europe-with-full-beacon-coverage/.
Jan Jaap is within Steltix responsible for Sales and Marketing organisation in the Benelux , Germany and the United Kingdom.
Steltix is a customer centric and quality driven European provider of IT based solutions enabling companies and institutions to increase their business performance, reducing costs and eliminating risks.