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nearables

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Nearables are low-power transmitters that activate in the presence of a Bluetooth-enabled or Near Field Communication (NFC-enabled) computing device. The purpose of nearable technology is to provide indoor geolocation services and facilitate short-range communication between active sensors and compatible software applications.

The term nearables was introduced by Estimote, a vendor for Bluetooth-enabled beacons and beacon stickers. Beacons are transmitters that have a tiny CPU and memory and battery. Depending upon their purpose, they may be also be equipped with accelerometers, thermometers or light and humidity sensors. Beacons typically have a signal radius of about 250ft and are so small that they can be placed almost anywhere. Estimote's beacon stickers are even smaller and thinner than previous types of beacons, but the trade-off is that they have less memory, less power and a transmission range of about 45ft.

In order for a nearable to be useful, the receiver must allow short-range communication transmissions, have a compatible app installed and the app has to be open. As long as these requirements are met, the nearable transmitter can use three or more beacons to triangulate the receiver's location and broadcast contextual data to the app.

Nearables can be fixed or mobile. In a fixed scenario, the transmitter is mounted to a permanent fixture, such as a wall, while the receiver is a mobile app on a tablet, phone or watch. Typically, the transmitter continuously broadcasts a signal and waits for a response from a compatible mobile app that is open and passing by. In a mobile scenario, the transmitter is mounted to physical objects that get moved around, such as shipping pallets. Both types of nearables can record the interaction for analytical purposes or trigger an experience that is tied to the receiver's location.

Proximity use cases for nearables

Nearables are expected to play an important role in the internet of things (IoT) and have a wide variety of use cases, including:

Retail 

  • Provide in-store customers with more information about a nearby product.
  • Provides sales associates with information about a particular customer's purchasing history.
  • Provide valued customers with a cashier-free checkout experience.

Marketing

  • Send coupons to receiving devices that are active.
  • Send reminders to customers about available reward points.
  • Interact with event attendees in real time.

Education

  • Verify student attendance.
  • Keep track of visitors.
  • Send reminders about special events.

Asset Management

  • Track the location of expensive assets, such as televisions, in a particular building.
  • Facilitate geofencing and alert receivers when assets leave a designated area.
  • Inform supervisors of a shipping container's contents and destination.

This was last updated in March 2019

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