Bluetooth® beacon technology has taken off in a big way. From stadiums to airports, from universities to retail outlets, beacons can help you navigate localized areas similar to the way GPS helps you navigate the larger world.

Recently, Target announced that it is updating their app to support Bluetooth beacon technology. “We’re working on new ways to blend digital technology with stores to enhance the shopping experience,” said Mike McNamara, Target chief information and digital officer.

How Beacons Work

Beacons are small devices, strategically placed throughout each location, that transmit a continuous signal to any mobile device in range. The technology is built on the Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) stack, which enables short-burst wireless connections and uses a broadcast topology to simultaneously communicate with multiple devices. It’s ideal for localized information sharing and well suited for the way-finding services Target needs.

Bluetooth and Target

Using Bluetooth® chips embedded in Acuity LED ceiling lights, Target’s network of beacons can help you find your way around any Target location­, all via the Target app on your mobile device. “We’re rolling out beacon Bluetooth technology that shows your location on the app’s map as you move throughout the store,” said McNamara. “Guests simply need to click on an item from their shopping list and the app will indicate on a store map the precise isle where the item can be found. It will even tell you if the product is on sale.”

In a recent article published on LEDs, author Mark Halper said, “It could be that improvements related to the recent ratification of a Bluetooth mesh standard convinced Target to choose the radio method. The mesh standard prescribes a common method for allowing Bluetooth chips to hand off instructions to each other, effectively extending the range of Bluetooth far beyond the 30 feet that it typically provides.”

This use of a Bluetooth beacon network, built on a wireless lighting platform, is a trend that will continue to gain momentum and further position Bluetooth technology as a serious player in the evolution of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.

The Future of Wireless

A recent Proximity.Directory report concluded that 75 percent of the top 20 retailers in the United States have already implemented beacon technology, including Walmart, Macy’s, and Rite Aid. In addition to the growing role beacons play in retail, Bluetooth beacons will play a big part in the creation of smart cities and establishing the IoT. ABI research forecasts that the Bluetooth Low Energy beacons are on track to break 500 million units by 2021.

Airports are already using beacons to transmit real-time gate-change information and departure delays to passengers, and museums use Bluetooth beacons to guide guests through exhibits. Subway stations and other locations with limited access to traditional wireless connectivity will use them to broadcast location information to travelers and commuters. Beacons will even be instrumental in enhancing the mobile wallet, helping retailers establish contactless payment.

“Bluetooth® Low Energy has made it possible for PayPal to create compelling location-based payment solutions and shopping experiences,” said Hasty Granbery, lead engineer, PayPal Beacon. “With PayPal Beacon, shoppers can do hands-free payments and get relevant in-store offers and notifications.”

Rolling Out More

Implementing Bluetooth® beacon way-finding services is just the beginning. Target continues to redefine the shopping experience. In an earlier news release Target said, “We’re also planning to launch a service in the Target app where you can request the help of a store team member right from your phone. Think of it this way: Beacons + Target app = Red-and-Khaki to the Rescue.”

Target’s Bluetooth beacons will be live in about half their stores in time for the holidays. So long as shoppers have opted-in on their app, they can take advantage of this new way-finding service when visiting one of these Target retail locations. 

To learn more about what’s next for Bluetooth beacons, watch the on-demand webinar: Bluetooth, beacons and what’s next: An actual location systems disruption? Or get the starter kit and learn how to build your own beacon or integrate Bluetooth beacon technology into your products and apps. 

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