54 ELECTRICALCONTRACTOR | MAR. 17 | WWW.ECMAG.COM
construction-workforce movement as well as the location and
status of equipment and supplies.
The technology helps site supervisors and project managers
understand where their subs are located and ensure they don’t
venture to places where they aren’t authorized to be.
“This helps address safety and security issues,” Sailer said.
By providing beacon tags to each worker, managers can
ensure that the right workers are in the right places, as well as
monitor dangerous areas and even understand what happened
in an accident. These kinds of installations also have implications when it comes to insurance, cycle counts and reducing
“All contractors and service providers are, or should be,
thinking about this technology,” Sailer said.
It is low cost, easy to install and provides a variety of
benefits depending on the application.
“What’s interesting is the trajectory of adoption you’re
seeing in other industries,” he said.
This typically leads into the construction
industry. Some distributors are now experimenting with beacon technology to enable the
tracking of assets while on work sites. For example,
some electrical distributors are testing BLE to track
their own inventory. By attaching beacons to their
inventory and installing a few beacon gateways
around a work site, they can understand how inventory is used and when replenishment is needed.
Dozens of startup companies have been incorporated
in recent years to offer different beacon-based use cases. For
instance, beacon technology by Boston-based startup Cuseum
is used in museums to provide information such as exhibit
details or wayfinding to visitors. That simply requires the
installation of beacons, an app on users’ phones and software
managing the data on a hosted server. More than 100 museums
are using Cuseum’s platform, said Brendan Ciecko, company
CEO and founder, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, N.C.
Beacons are also being used for asset tracking, since the cost
is becoming low enough that they can be attached to equipment
such as crash carts in hospitals or tools in a factory. They can
be ruggedized and, in some cases, come with accelerometers so
that they can detect when they are moving and wake up from
a dormant mode, thereby saving battery life.
Navigation and asset tracking
Proximity technology company Radius Networks, Washington,
D.C., also sees benefits for contractors both as installers and
users. The company focuses on enterprise solutions, as well as
providing beacons and services installed at restaurants, stadiums, retail and other use cases in which large number of people
may come and go. Marc Wallace, company cofounder and CEO,
said the BLE company has been quite busy in the past year.
In the first few years of its operation, the company was
working with “a lot of partners and customers using the technology for messaging and advertising,” Wallace said.
For example, as an individual with an app downloaded on
his or her phone walked past a beacon, the phone received a
message about a sales promotion or coupon.
Now, it’s more about navigation, asset tracking and a continuing stream of new applications.
The company’s technology is intended to fill a gap between
GPS and near-field communication (NFC) radio-frequency
identification (RFID) technology. GPS provides users with
location-based data on phones, but only within a few city
blocks, and isn’t much help in indoor locations.
NFC and other RFID technology can provide very precise
data using radio waves—down to the centimeters in some
cases—but can require a complex wired infrastructure
that is expensive to install and maintain and often,
in the case of NFC, requires a user to specifically
place a tag or mobile device somewhere near a
reader for it to be recognized.
That’s where BLE beacons come in, since they
don’t require specific actions by users and can be
installed at a reasonable price to track individuals
within a 10-square-foot area or within a room,
Restaurants are beginning to use the technology to locate customers as they seat themselves. An
individual downloads a restaurant app, and places an
order. Then, beacons installed in the restaurant identify the
location of that individual down to the table where he or she is
sitting so wait staff can deliver their order.
For warehouses or construction sites, a notice can be sent
to workers, based on their location. For instance, users can be
informed they have just entered a hard-hat zone. Some installations are still just pilots, but the work increasingly consists of
permanent installations, Wallace said.
All of this means potential revenue for contractors to
install such systems and get them into operation. Beacons still
require power. In some cases, they are battery-powered, but
that requires the effort of battery replacement. Plugging them
into outlets confines where they can be installed. Pulling cable
to wire them to their power source is another option, but that’s
typically only realistic with new construction.
In most cases, Wallace said, the preference for users is
power over ethernet running Cat 5 or Cat 6 cable to power the
beacons and supply them with the internet connection needed
to get location data sent back to a server efficiently.
“[Such an installation] is a big job that requires a lot of technicians,” Wallace said.
Therefore, many of his company’s employees are low-voltage installers.
S WEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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