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August 2, 2016

Geofencing and Beacons to Make Offices Smarter

Written by Sanjaya Don Ranasinghe |

There are many discussions about smart homes, but not many about smart offices and workplaces.

As the cost and the extensiveness of transforming an office into a smart office is becoming less than regular maintenance work, offices have already slowly started to use smart technologies.

Commercial buildings account for 40% of the world’s energy consumption. So, there is no wonder why major companies and innovators focused mainly on how to reduce energy consumption, or methods of generating energy in the work place.

In the recent years they have come up with great solutions such as solar panels/roofs and water recycling systems to make buildings greener.

But now they are starting to turn their attention to the inside of the building as opposed to the outside – a recent innovation being energy generating exercise bikes.

Developing technologies provide a better environment to work by minimising the things you dislike in an office. Even though new innovators can’t set right your annoying colleague yet, they have come up with great ideas and devices to make it more convenient for you, and to offer you a better environment to work in.

Location based services play a vital part in these technologies.

Geofencing and Beacons – the key to smart offices?

Geofencing is a feature in software that uses GPS (Global Positioning System) and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) to define a geographical boundary, or in simple terms a virtual fence around a predefined geographic area.

Bluetooth BeaconsThis technology is best for large areas (macro location) as it uses satellites and cell phone towers in order to pinpoint the user’s location but have a huge impact on the battery life of the smart phone device.

Beacons use Bluetooth to transmit data to an application installed in your smartphone, therefore allowing the app to understand the users location then trigger an action if needed.

A similar technology was designed by Philips – an LED lighting system that transmits promotional codes to smartphones via light waves. But Beacons are definitely the cool kids on the market right now, because of their wider application and the lower cost, Beacons can be used to get the micro-location of the user (down to centimetres).

Philips Hue Bulb
The Philips Hue

To use Beacons, users have to install the mobile application on their iOS or Android phone. After the Beacon identifies the application, it sends push notifications to the app. The mobile app can be enhanced to be used with other IoT devices such as smart bulbs and smart thermometers, among many other things.

How about a smart key to open doors?

Or how about a customisable workspace which uses Beacons and sensors to provide you with the maximum comfort while you are working, controlling heating, lighting and even humidity?

Beacons Use Cycle - making smart offices
An example of how Beacons can be used to adjust your workspace. Click to view.

Does that not pose a security threat in terms of a user getting access to certain information that is not supposed to be accessed?

One of the main and most important uses of both Geofencing and Beacon technologies is information sharing. Although both of them are trying to achieve a similar goal, and are mostly being used in the retail sector to attract customers, these two technologies are complementary and have vast uses.

Your employer may want to apply restrictions to some information or to some users. By using Geofencing and Beacon technologies together, employers can control access to devices and applications within a certain perimeter, and therefore keep information secure by restricting access to things like iCloud.

As an example, with both of the technologies combined, you can find out which part of the building a user is in, or if there is any specific information that should not be accessible for that user.

Another simple example is that employers can send alerts to an employee’s phone as soon as they enter the Geofence, reminding them to turn on their Bluetooth so the Beacons can transmit data. Ensuring everyone is always connected.

It is evident that businesses will continue to exploit Beacon technology to transform their businesses by creating smart offices and more mobile applications will be built to interact with them to maximise productivity and also employee satisfaction.

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