The form factor of badge beacons make them a favorite in offices, warehouses and other facilities across a number of industries. They’re wearable, they don’t get in the way and they deliver the full functionality of proximity-based solutions—what’s not to like?
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Our very own Card Tag CT18-3 has proven to be a big hit because of its versatility and convenience. Adopting the familiar form of a card and fitting into wallets and accessories like lanyards lets it go where employees go without interfering with, well, anything. Being small, mobile and unobtrusive has led to card tags being used in a number of useful and creative ways.
You might even say that card beacons open a lot of doors to a long list of business applications, including literally opening doors. A bit of beacon humor there...
Anyway, our month-long celebration here on our blog of Kontakt.io’s sixth anniversary comes to a close with this list of six things Card Tags can do to make businesses more productive, efficient and secure.
We’ll start with an easy one here. Badges can be programmed to authorize the holder to enter different areas of a workplace or other facility by disabling electronic door locks. This is commonly used as a way to grant access to all employees to the main entrance of a workplace but the same principle can be reconfigured to work with internal doors as well. For example, the cards can be used in a way that only grants certain people access to certain areas, which can be very useful for security purposes in sensitive environments.
This has particular relevance to facilities that welcome large numbers of visitors, vendors or others who will be on site temporarily. With Card Tags, they can be issued a card that will only give them access to limited, approved areas and keep them in areas where they are meant to be. As with anyone using a Card Tag CT18-3, their exact movements are tracked and recorded, along with the precise times when the card they were given was used. And speaking of recording times…
When card holders open doors and move from area to area, those actions are recorded and that data is easily stored and managed. In addition to everything else they can do, badges make the perfect mobile time card to electronically punch in and out at work. Doing so doesn’t even have to be tied to completing an action, like opening a door. Simply being within range of a sensor is enough to register that card holder as being on site.
This function alone is the basis for many customer use cases since it eliminates the inefficient and often inaccurate conventional way of managing employee attendance records. With cards, there’s no more forgetting to clock in or out and hours worked by a particular employee, shift or department can be precisely calculated at any time. This is not only useful for calculating costs and guarding against excessive overtime, but also as documentation for compliance measures regarding workplace and employee safety.
This is more than just the inverse of the first item in this list. Using cards to regulate which areas of a facility can be accessed by whom and under what conditions is fundamental to a number of workplace safety and security considerations.
Let’s cover safety first. Factories, hospitals or other operations with potentially hazardous environments can use Card Tag to restrict access to those areas to employees on an approved list. Only those who are trained, equipped or otherwise permitted to enter a room or area can do so. There’s no need to worry about unauthorized access unless someone’s card is used improperly. As with other operations, every entrance and exit is recorded and time-stamped. In the event of an accident, full documentation of who was where and when will be available.
Security is another concern for facilities with, for example, sensitive data, expensive inventory or other assets requiring an additional layer of safekeeping. The same principle of restricting access applies here as well. Cards allow you to control who can enter areas where security is a concern. Again, full documentation is always available should it be necessary to reconstruct the flow of employees into and out of a particular room or point in the building.
In both cases, safety and security, access can be granted or revoked remotely and instantly, without the need to physically handle a particular card.
We’ve written before about tools that you hope you never need but are still “musts” in large facilities. One of them is a feature that can be added to Card Tag—a button that sends out a signal, which effectively acts as a “panic” button in many contexts.
This use case has obvious utility in many settings but the healthcare and hospitality industries in particular have recognized the value of being able to call for help from often remote or isolated locations. Panic buttons can save valuable time when every second counts and other forms of communication aren’t available or accessible. With panic buttons, there’s no need to find, for example, some internal telecommunications device, call the right number and explain the situation and location of the issue.
When a panic button is activated, the identity of the card holder and his or her location is recognized immediately. An alert is sent to the appropriate authority and the rescue/help mission is set in motion. The button’s utility lies in the speed and ease with which people in distress, or people helping someone in distress, can call for help—just press the button and that’s it.
Again, it’s a feature that you hope you don’t need but you absolutely want it in the kind of desperate moments that you just can’t plan for.
Try looking down on a factory floor or museum space and count the number of people there. Now, follow their movements and keep an eye on new people who join them. How many can you track? Can you even make it to double digits?
RTLS (Real-time locating systems) using Card Tags can. In fact, they can handle a lot more than double digits. The total number of people in an area, their movements and concentrations—information that can be relevant and useful to many use cases and contexts.
Managing visitor or people flow can be an important part of the customer experience or, more importantly, employee safety. It can also help in the full utilization of spatial capacity and, in turn, more efficient use of resources.
Let’s say that, for safety reasons, you can only have a certain number of people in a given area at once. Card tags are the solution—they can alert you when that maximum is reached. Or maybe you want to remotely check the level of crowding in part of a facility that you can’t see from where you are. Again, card tags deliver answers.
Historical data can be analyzed to tell you which parts of a facility are over- or under-utilized and identify bottlenecks in the flow of people, visitors or employees. When you can see a digital representation of real-world traffic, it’s easier to make the often minor adjustments that help to even out the flow.
This one might be obvious after everything else we’ve covered here but this basic application of tracking abilities made possible by wearable tags and badges is still, by itself, enough to make them worthwhile. Isn’t the ability to instantly locate anyone with a badge one of the clearest business benefits imaginable? In large facilities especially, it’s a huge time and resource saver. No need to tie up Person A with the task of finding Person B when Person C can just check the RTLS interface and get an instant answer.
But here’s where this last entry on the list goes beyond the previous five. Until now, we’ve focused on tracking and managing people, but the same wearable badges that make that possible can also be affixed to assets, like machines, tools and other elements in a manufacturing process or inventory.
Think of the downtime avoided by being able to instantly locate an asset that has been misplaced or not returned to its proper station. No need to manually search for it when you can access its location as easily as looking something up online. The digital twin of individual units of product, pallets in shipment or anything else with a tag attached to it can be seen in virtual space and its physical world counterpart located in seconds.
Imagine the impact on your bottom line when you spend a tiny fraction of the time usually required to locate all the moving parts of a complex manufacturing, warehousing or production facility.
Now you can see how something the size of your driver’s license can play a key role in so many aspects of the operation of a huge range of business environments. If you think card tags might be something than can transform some aspect of your own operations but you’re not sure how to get started, contact use here.
Click here to download a complete Beacon Buyer’s Guide.
We’ve covered the entry-level basics of what beacons are all about in a previous post. This time, we’re diving a little deeper and focusing on the subject of how to choose the right hardware for your project. Specifically, we’re going to look at how the details of a given use case has a strong influence on what you need to consider when dealing with the huge amount of hardware choices.
Making the right choice is easier when you can do a little preparation in the form of answering a few basic questions about what your beacon deployment is for and the environment where it will function. There are other factors that can influence your choice, like cost, but it often helps to work backwards from a simple idea—What do I need the beacons to do?
If you’re just starting the process of gathering information about setting up your own beacon deployment, don’t be intimidated by the surplus of information and technical details available. It may not seem so simple at the beginning, but taking it step by step and considering the basic elements of your own use case will help the hardware choices you have to make become much easier. Defining what you want your beacon network to do and understanding the factors that can influence how it functions will both help you select the right hardware and put you in a better position to manage the deployment once it goes live.
Your hardware choices are directly dependent on the requirements of your use case. It’s important to recognize that part of the reason there are so many choices when it comes to beacon hardware is the incredible number of applications for Bluetooth technology. Our goal here is to go over the most common factors that determine which hardware is best for which deployments and explain why one beacon is a better fit than another.
Before we dive in, though, let’s cover the difference between two terms that are sometimes confused. “Beacons” and “tags” are often used interchangeably, which is sometimes okay because they do the same thing. Other times, however, it’s important to distinguish between them because they fulfill their roles in different ways.
The difference is that beacons don’t move and tags do. That’s it. They’re both Bluetooth low energy devices and they both emit a signal that is picked up and interpreted by other devices and applications. The distinction comes down to HOW they’re used. Beacons are typically placed on a wall or ceiling and used for applications like wayfinding or customer experience-oriented purposes. They stay in one place and interact with people or things that move around them. Tags, on the other hand, have a different form factor designed to move with people, like a card or wristband. They move around and interact with a device that stays in one place. The technology is the same, but they’re used in different ways and the separate names help to clarify the situation when one device is more appropriate for a particular use case.
As mentioned already, different use cases call for different hardware. Here are some of the most common use cases for beacon deployments and the most important features you need to consider for each one:
-Wayfinding / indoor navigation
Remember that once you’ve selected the Bluetooth hardware for your project, you can always buy a dev kit (usually a couple of units) and run a POC to make sure it delivers on what was promised before you purchase bigger quantities. A perfect fit with your requirements on the technical specifications doesn’t automatically mean that the real-world deployment will meet your expectations. Pay particular attention to the performance of the features you’re especially interested in. Test signal stability and battery consumption. See if the hardware can live up to your expectations in a real-world environment before you heading for the full deployment.
If you would like to get into more of the specifics of how different types of beacons and tags are best suited for a variety of use cases and environments, you can read more in our new white paper, The Beacon Buyer’s Guide. It’s a great resource if you’re trying to decide what kind of beacon hardware to buy or just want to know more about the technology that makes them tick (even though beacons don’t tick…). Download it and learn everything from the basics of how beacons work to how different types are best for different jobs and everything in between. There’s also a handy chart showing which beacons in the Kontakt.io portfolio are best for different applications.
Bluetooth Asset Tag starts shipping! If you're already ordered your tags, here's a short guide to get you started.
As of now, current Asset Tag comes with firmware version 1.1. That means, your telemetry packet includes two kinds of data: the standard telemetry packet and also a button data packet. The button-related data helps you know the last time the button was clicked.
Note: We're still working on the button data packet. Keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming firmware updates, including button click improvements.
Click here to see the telemetry use cases in healthcare, logistics, and public venues.
By default, the Bluetooth Asset Tags are shipped powered on. If you want to switch it off, hold down the button for at least 5 seconds, if the LED lights up slowly, the tag is turning off and no packet is broadcasting.
To start up a tag that is not broadcasting, hold down the button for at least 5 seconds. If the LED light flashes quickly, the tag is powering on.
Stay tuned of new firmware updates including user experience improvements and additional features in the upcoming weeks.
The last months have been intense for the Kontakt.io team - we’ve talked to dozens of customers and researched hundreds of solutions. Based on our findings, we’re launching Bluetooth Asset Tag to support today’s asset tracking solutions.
The adoption of the Card Beacon and the Tough Beacon confirmed that the asset tracking market is ready to embrace Bluetooth in applications previously reserved for RFID, WiFi, and similar technologies. We also have discovered that the affordability and ease of use of Bluetooth Low Energy tags with existing infrastructures and mobile phones enable completely new use cases.
What happened last year is great proof of the shift happening in the industry. We saw beacons moving beyond retail and public spaces and entering verticals such as supply chain and healthcare. Forecasts for 2018 assert that Bluetooth will continue to be the key component of the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) and remain on a steadily increasing adoption path in other industries (more about that in our Bluetooth Beacon Industry in 2018 report).
Kontakt.io doesn’t want to be just a part of this new exciting environment; we strive to lead this space. Therefore, we had to create products that can compete not only with other Bluetooth-based solutions but also with other technologies that have been dominating the market for several years.
Working with healthcare and industrial customers, we’ve learned about the problems of RFID-based systems that make the existing solutions ineffective and prevent new players from making IoT the core of their business. We know that the market needs a cost-efficient infrastructure offering great range and accuracy without sacrificing lifetime, and the ability to send more data than just pure location.
That’s what our new product is all about. It extends our tag portfolio, bringing new form factors, capabilities such as a programmable button, and a pricing structure that reflects the needs of asset tracking solutions of all sizes.
Asset Tag is the long life Bluetooth Tag with a programmable button, and has a replaceable battery. Its built-in accelerometer adds more context to the location data—based on the acceleration readings, you can understand how your assets are moving.
Additionally, you can use the button to send custom events to the cloud. For example, a short press of the button can mean that a worker has completed a certain process step, and a double press means that a given machine has stopped working.
Finally, the tag has an LED that you can program to alert you about the status of the device, locate your tags, or confirm successful user interaction.
You can order Asset Tag in our online store.
Did you know that basically no one actually buys “iBeacons?” This is because iBeacon is often fundamentally misunderstood. The Bluetooth beacon, as pictured below, is not actually “an iBeacon.” iBeacon describes only the protocol used by the beacon (again, the hardware below) to talk to other technologies.
Note that most beacons on the market can use either iBeacon OR Eddystone (from Google) to communicate with other technology. That means, while you may want to use specify that you use iBeacon, you’re still not actually buying one.
Learn more about iBeacon and Eddystone here.
The beacon itself, you buy. You can touch it, take it apart, look at the batteries. It’s the physical hardware. But this is also where it gets interesting:
Trick question! They’re the same thing. These two terms will continue popping up more and more often as beacons (or Bluetooth tags) grow in popularity. The idea of the “beacon” is more about marketing than anything. “Beacon” in many ways describes what the hardware actually does. It also recalls the idea of the iBeacon, making it easy to connect the two.
Bluetooth tag, on the other hand, is a more straight-forward and traditional term. If you’ve ever heard of RFID, you probably know RFID tags. It’s the same with Bluetooth. For businesses using these tools, Bluetooth is simply a different kind of technology that can be used for many of the same uses as RFID, UWB, and so on. These industries (like manufacturing, healthcare, or logistics) “tag” is a rather traditional and well-known term.
Thus, if you’re not sure if you want to say “beacon” or “Bluetooth tag,” you can just examine your vertical or use case. Luckily, you won’t be wrong no matter what you choose.
Whether you choose beacons or tags, know you’re working with the same, incredible technology. Also, check the comparison of Bluetooth and other technologies competing on hardware and software requirements in this white paper.
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New solutions using Bluetooth Tags claim to be far cheaper than their Active RFID counterpart. Here’s why it makes sense.
Manufacturers, healthcare administrators, and all kinds of other businesses use technology to track assets. More importantly, this has been going on for decades. Those companies with a long history in the business of tracking have likely tried several different kinds of real-time location systems. These days, the most common competing technologies include active RFID, Wi-Fi, UWB, BLE, and Zigbee.
Check out an extensive overview of RTLS and their applications in manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, and workplaces.
Chances are, if you’re looking into asset tracking tags, you aren’t seriously considering all of the above technologies. If you want the features and cost of RFID tags, a ZigBee system probably isn’t going to fit the bill. Or if you want extreme accuracy and have a huge budget, you won't be using RFID.
Let's see an example. A given solution requires room-level or 3-5 meter accuracy. The business could choose to invest in a highly accurate system using Zigbee. The results would be highly granular which is ideal...for some situations. Here, extreme granularity would only mean more data to manage and sift through as well as far larger costs.
That's why, for these solutions requiring room level or 3-5 meter accuracy, Bluetooth tags and RFID tags are among the most commonly used tools. Wi-Fi tags are also a viable solution.
It’s easy to get excited by the price of an affordable tag. Here’s another place we need to differentiate: are you looking for the cheapest, flimsiest tag humanly possible or do you intend to use it in a business setting where reliability and longevity are important?
This small question will determine how much you’ll be paying for your tags. It’s worth noting that, for some RTLS systems, gateways/readers will only work with certain tags. This means, a user may not be able to buy a knockoff tag and pair it with a standard reader. You’ll have to check the specifics of your chosen tools.
If you’re looking for reliable hardware to be used with a reader, here are prices you can expect:
Apart from the basic protocol, whether your tags use Bluetooth, RFID, or something else, there are plenty of differentiating factors to keep in mind when purchasing tags for tracking purposes. For more detail on the difference between Bluetooth and RFID, check out our in-depth study here: Real Time Location System [RTLS] Study: How do RFID and BLE differ?
There are RFID tags that are far cheaper than all of the numbers listed above; however, this is because they are an entirely different technology. These ultra-cheap solutions are generally passive technologies, acting only when the tag is brought in very very close proximity to the reader. This means, for example, an employee with a passive RFID tag for access and entry will have to scan their ID. An employee using active RFID would be able to simply walk in the rough vicinity of a reader, and they would be automatically registered.
Of course, it’s difficult to say exactly how much a tag will cost you as there are several different kinds, and--more importantly--different features will mean different returns. However, one thing remains true for all: readers are also a major cost consideration.
Once you have your assets tagged, you’ll need a device to read them. Wi-Fi and RFID readers tell a powerful story: asset tracking is a solution for massive companies with massive budgets.
Here's the big difference: active RFID readers will cost you anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000.
This a standard price tag for such readers. This is because of the inherent nature of the two technologies. Bluetooth has a very long range, yet it’s also low energy (hence, Bluetooth Low Energy). Bluetooth SIG specifically planned it to be efficient, and their future updates will likely add to its strengths and capabilities. Wi-Fi and RFID, on the other hand, weren’t made with the explicit plan to be low energy. The result is the need for more hardware and higher price tags to achieve the same result.
If your requirements can be met by Bluetooth tags, then it can save money. So, when we do the math, these are the results we get:
A BLE tag-based RTLS solution can cost you 1/5th the price of the Wi-Fi or RFID equivalent.
Despite this being a basic fact, every system is different. The exact cost of your RTLS will depend on what points you value. Though costs will fluctuate as technologies develop, these numbers reflect the fundamentals of each. Of course, don’t forget, Bluetooth 5 has been released and Bluetooth tags will soon be more powerful than ever before.
What's more, BLE is supported by a growing number of WiFi access point vendors. This means that you can run a BLE-based RTLS on a WiFi network, without the need to install additional gateways, saving on hardware, installation, and maintenance costs.
Read more: Integrating WiFi and BLE to drive rapid growth
Tracking tags come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. For general purposes, it might not matter whether your BLE tag is long, short, or anything else. However, for some, it will matter greatly. For example, some packages will be difficult to affix a tag to. Here, you may be able to use a Card Beacon or other thin or specially-designed tag. Similarly, the external shell on Bluetooth tags can differ. While most are durable enough for the daily grind, they generally won’t be ready for very cold weather or physical stress. That’s why tags like Tough Beacon were made.
RFID and Bluetooth tag hardware differ. Some may be:
Then, there are sensors. Accelerometers, light, temperature, humidity, and other types of sensors are able to add more capabilities to your existing infrastructure. This can also add to the initial cost of your infrastructure. However, by leveraging these sensors to increase energy saving initiatives, they may also help your infrastructure last months or years longer. Don’t forget about Bluetooth 5, which will be making future tags infinitely more competitive.
The Bluetooth 5 update will bring:
This means 800% more rich, contextual data and metadata from sources like sensors!
Lost your phone? Your keys? A new industry has popped up promising to track your valuables so you never lose them. Their primary use is for items in short- or medium-range from the owner. They work like this: the user will generally attach their personal Bluetooth tag to their asset—a computer, keyring, or even cat. These tags send out their ID information at regular intervals. The related app is able to register the location of these tags when within a distance of around 30 feet but can also reach up to 100.
These end-user trackers are generally the same as any other Bluetooth tag. The real difference is the app and how the company has decided to leverage them. It’s likely that, as these solutions become more popular, you’ll be seeing more options and greater capabilities.
Also check out an extensive overview of RTLS and their applications in manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, and workplaces.
The real cost of a tracking system implies much more than just tags. These hardware tags are merely the final node, the piece a user may see on a daily basis. Beneath these tags is a complete infrastructure constantly crunching numbers.
In all, there’s three important components of an IoT infrastructure:
Each of them is a separate layer of the IoT cost structure. Some additional costs associated with starting and maintaining infrastructure are:
Seldom will the hardware be the only tool businesses need to get started. Managers will likely have to find an existing IoT application or platform or partner with a solution provider to create the right solution for their business.
So to sum up, all you need to do is find a sensor vendor, then find a gateway vendor, then find an IoT platform provider, then find an integrator to put all these elements together and plug them into your existing infrastructure. If this sounds complex, it's because it is complex. Don't worry, there's a better way. Contact our team, schedule a demo of our end-to-end IoT platform Simon, and see what it can do without all this usual complexity.
Similarly, the upfront hardware cost marks only the beginning of a physical infrastructure’s lifetime. Deployment costs and any future updates (hardware or software) will also have to be considered. This is why proper planning, as well as foresight, can help save a lot of headache in the long run. Infrastructures should be built to support the future and future use cases of the company, not just the current goal