GOOGLE HAS TEAMED UP with players in the electronic beacon industry to develop a new, open format Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology to inspire developers to build apps for beacons to communicate with devices.
Electronic beacons are used to provide precise location and contextual cues in apps to help those with connected devices navigate more efficiently.
For instance, a beacon can label a bus stop so that a device owner can see live departure times and know when to have their ticket ready.
Google's new technology is a way to add this meaningful data to apps and Google services, as well as manage the beacons they connect to regularly in a more efficient way.
"We're expanding the range of use cases for beacon technology by publishing a new and open format for BLE beacons called Eddystone that anyone can use," Google said in a blog post.
"Eddystone is robust and extensible. It supports multiple frame types for different use cases, and it supports versioning to make introducing new functionality easier."
Eddystone is cross-platform and capable of running on Android, iOS or any platform that supports BLE beacons. It's also available on GitHub under the open source Apache v2.0 licence for everyone to use.
A beacon is meant to be discoverable by any nearby Bluetooth Smart device via its identifier, which is a public signal.
But Google has added a security feature to the new beacon technology called Ephemeral Identifiers (EIDs) which change frequently and can be decoded only by authorised clients.
"EIDs will enable you to securely do things like find your luggage once you get off the plane or find your lost keys. We'll publish the technical specs of this design soon," the firm added.
Using Eddystone means that Google can offer two main benefits to developers: better semantic context and a more precise location.
Google is launching two new APIs to support this. The Nearby API for Android and iOS makes it easier for apps to find and communicate with nearby devices and beacons, such as a specific bus stop or a particular art exhibit in a museum, providing better context.
The Proximity Beacon API, meanwhile, lets developers associate semantic location and related data with beacons, stored in the cloud.
This APIs will be used in existing location APIs, such as the next version of the Places API, Google said.
"An existing BLE beacon can be made Eddystone-compliant with a simple firmware update," the firm explained.
"At the core, we built Eddystone as an open and extensible protocol that's also interoperable, so we'll also introduce an Eddystone certification process in the near future by working closely with hardware manufacturing partners."
Google is also starting to improve its own products and services with beacons. Google Maps added beacon-based transit notifications in Portland earlier this year to provide faster access to real-time transit schedules for specific stations.
Google Now will also be able to use this contextual information to help prioritise the most relevant cards, like showing you menu items when you're in a restaurant.
The firm is also making beacons useful even when a mobile app is not available by using Eddystone beacons in the Physical Web project that broadcast URLs to help people interact with their surroundings.
Check out the video below for a more visual look at what Google is doing with beacons. µ
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