Geofencing -- putting a virtual fence around a location and enabling mobile devices such as smartphones to react when they cross -- is something that's been talked about for several years by tech-forward meeting, event, and convention planners. Apple's version, iBeacon, may have finally gotten it right.
The technology uses small, short-range, wireless devices that can be placed within a room, throughout a meeting facility, or on a trade-show floor, which not only track when smartphones and tablets, with a compatible app and Bluetooth enabled, are within range, but they can also tell where that device is in relation to the beacon.
"iBeacon is a really exciting technology that you will see incorporated into events because it has a lot of functionality," says meetings industry technology consultant Corbin Ball. Some uses are fairly straightforward but very helpful, such as automatically checking attendees into a meeting.
"When you go into a meeting room, iBeacon can recognize you and automatically sign you up for continuing education unit credits, or automatically give you the survey specific to that meeting, as opposed to the one next door," Ball says.
It's not just surveys and CEUs that can be sent when iBeacon detects an event participant within range. The technology can also let users know when they are near other attendees who signed up with similar interests, and with permission, can share contact details. Messages and discounts can be sent to people who wander by (and have the app and Bluetooth enabled) a fact that consumer retailers and marketers are finding very interesting.
Other ways planners can use iBeacon include connecting it with a trade-show floor map to help attendees navigate from a meeting at one booth to their next appointment all the way across the floor. Levi's Stadium, the 1.85-million-square-foot, 68,000-seat home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, has installed about 1,000 beacons using the same Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology as iBeacon to help fans find their seats, restrooms, and the various concession stands. Museums are starting to use it to provide additional information on exhibits to visitors who download the institution's app, in part because the inexpensive beacons do not require rewiring galleries.
At the EIBTM (now IBTM World) meetings-industry trade show in Barcelona in November, the 2014 Technology Watch Award went to The Live Group, a Kingston-upon-Thames, UK-based firm that uses the BLE beacon technology for an indoor positioning system within its Greengage delegate management system. This helps event planners locate attendees both individually and in groups for traffic flow analysis. Attendees can track their own location and find others. It can also send push notifications to specific groups of delegates and those who approach particular spots, such as trade show booths.
Then there is iBeacon's use in gamification, such as the scavenger hunt that the Consumer Electronics Show put on last year, Ball says. "They used iBeacon technology to get people [to visit] all the exhibit halls," he notes. He adds that those who did "got a prize for completing the challenge."
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This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.