Design News is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Bluetooth Beacons Are the Future of Shopping

Bluetooth Beacons Are the Future of Shopping

I belong to a wholesale club that heavily utilizes self-checkout stations. However, when the club wants to push a particular item, a human is posted at a special sales station to hawk that item.

As you leave the club, a permanently entrenched human window salesman always attempts to get your attention. The random special sales stations within the club can be easily avoided, but it is impossible to get by the window sales station without being accosted. But I digress.

The club has used self-checkout stations for years. I'm sure this saves money, as a single clerk can oversee multiple self-checkout stations. The club could possibly save even more money by replacing the sales stations with beacons. A Bluetooth-based beacon transmits very small amounts of data at timed intervals. For instance, an iBeacon frame consists of a unique universal identifier (UUID) and a major and minor value. The idea is for a receiver to digest the incoming beacon data and perform a task based on the contents of the incoming beacon frame. The concept behind Bluetooth-based beacons has been around since Nokia introduced Bluetooth Low Energy (known then as Wibree) in 2006. Apple brought its version of the beacon (iBeacon) to the world in 2013.

The open-source Eddystone beacon is currently giving the iBeacon a run for its money. The Eddystone beacon is particularly attractive for developers that do not possess an Apple MFi license. An Eddystone beacon can be configured to send UID, URL, or TLM (telemetry) frames.
My wholesale club could benefit from a dongle that emits an Eddystone URL frame. Instead of a human at a sales station asking customers to try a product, customers equipped with the right smartphone app could be alerted to special promotions via their smartphones. If the customer is interested, he or she can investigate the offer further from information provided by the beacon.

Now that you have been presented with a problem (pesky salespeople) and a possible solution (beacons), what if you're tapped to build the beacon? There are lots of beacon manufacturers that can sell you bags full of beacons. However, let's say the club wants its own in-house Eddystone beacon design.

As of this writing, there are only five tested implementations listed in the GitHub Eddystone document. One of the solutions is Arduino-based, while the remaining solutions are SDK-based. Silicon Labs, CSR, Nordic, TI, and RFduino are represented.

If your Bluetooth Smart beacon design is to be based on a Bluetooth Smart modular radio, any of the five solutions listed in the GitHub entry can be employed. Three of the listed Bluetooth Smart Eddystone implementations -- Nordic, TI, and CSR -- can be employed to create beacon hardware at the IC level. You will need an ARM development system (C compiler and debugger/programmer hardware) for a Nordic solution. The TI solution requires an IAR or CCS development system.

We can add yet another Bluetooth Smart radio manufacturer to the Eddystone beacon list. ACKme has just announced out-of-the-box iBeacon and Eddystone beacon support for its Bluetooth Smart radio modules. The ACKme Bluetooth Smart radio modules are UART-programmable, which eliminates the need for a firmware development system. I have knowledge of yet another major semiconductor manufacturer that will announce beacon support for its line of Bluetooth Smart radio modules very soon.

It looks my wholesale club is in business, as far as beacons are concerned.  All it has to do is choose a beacon type, select a platform, and execute a design. I would be most grateful if the window salesman suddenly assumed the form of a beacon.

Fred Eady is the owner of EDTP Electronics, which was established in 1988 following the publication of his first magazine article. Since the formation of EDTP Electronics, Fred has written thousands of magazine articles. He has written for all of the major electronic magazines, including Radio Electronics, Electronics Now, Nuts and Volts, Servo, MicroComputer Journal, and Circuit Cellar. To date, he has authored four books and contributed to a fifth. He currently works as a PIC microcontroller consultant and is a Microchip Authorized Design Partner. Fred also authors monthly columns in Nuts and Volts and Servo magazines. His customers include machine shops, specialty startup companies, medical machine manufacturers, coin-operated device businesses, and various other research and development companies. He has a very close working relationship with Microchip Technology, the manufacturer of PIC microcontrollers, and has taught Ethernet and WiFi classes at Microchip's annual Masters Conference.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.