Google pushes 'real world' Bluetooth low energy beacon format

Google said it is addressing limitations in Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacon systems with a new, open format that will make it easier for developers to produce compatible applications.

The U.S. company launched Eddystone, a BLE-based beacon format developed in conjunction with partners working in the beacon industry that Google said offers better semantic context and precise location than existing systems. The company added that partnering with industry players means its format addresses real-world requirements for the location technology, while also delivering cross-platform support and security.

Bluetooth beacons are small objects that transmit location information to smartphones that are powered by Bluetooth Smart, the brand name for BLE, according to information from the Bluethooth Special Interest Group. The beacons can enable services including mobile wallets, couponing, and location-based services, it said.

In a blog post, Google explained that Eddystone "supports multiple frame types for different use cases," and simplifies the introduction of new functionality to existing beacons. The format is compatible with Google's Android smartphone operating system along with Apple's iOS and any other "platform that supports BLE beacons."

The company explained that the frame format is the core of any BLE beacon. This format is a language that enables the beacon to beam information to Bluetooth-enabled smart devices in the vicinity. Google compared the systems to lighthouses, noting that beacons "can label a bus stop so your phone knows to have your ticket ready, or a museum app can provide background on the exhibit you're standing in front of."

Google added that it included a security feature called Ephemeral Identifiers (EIDs) that "change frequently, and only allow authorised clients to decode them."

The search giant's beacon push puts it in direct competition with Apple's iBeacon technology, which launched in 2013, Bloomberg noted. Apple's service utilises small form factor signal beacons that can be mounted in a variety of locations. The newspaper listed ceilings or shelving as examples.

Google also introduced new application programming interfaces (APIs) as part of its beacon push. The Nearby API for Android and iOS "makes it easier for apps to find and communicate with nearby devices and beacons," while the Proximity Beacon API "lets developers associate semantic location" based on latitude and longitude "and related data with beacons, stored in the cloud," the company explained.

For more:
- see this Google blog post
- view this Bloomberg report
- read this Bluetooth SIG beacon explanation

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