Light hears ahead of its time

Back in 2013 when the Internet of Things was peaking on the hype-cycle — and all too often described using contrived smart home examples — this was perhaps our favourite way to explain the IoT:

You find yourself having to relocate from Montréal to San Francisco, but no sweat. Computers have already identified the things in your home you’ll want to take along. Computers have located and procured replacements near your destination. And what can’t be replaced they will ship there as efficiently as possible. Finally, those items you don’t use, they’ve already posted online for sale. Relax and enjoy your journey!

Far-fetched?   Not if buildings were able to identify and locate their occupants, including the everyday items worth moving or replacing!

This week, the proverbial light bulb just went off (yes, brace for more such puns). Lunera announced the transformation of the LED light bulb.

Lunera Smart T8

Is theirs the first smart light bulb?   No.   How then is this transformative? Lunera’s light bulb is the first that’s smart enough to listen.

Today there are billions of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices occupying the buildings in which we live. These include the laptop on which I’m typing, the smartphone in my pocket, the wearable on my wrist and even the chair on which I’m sitting! All you need to do is listen, which is what our platform does to identify and locate such devices: effectively BYOD RTLS.

Indeed, our own infrastructure has been listening since 2013. We’ve learned a lot since then, patiently waiting for a brilliant solution to the pervasive infrastructure challenge. What’s so exciting today about being a Lunera launch partner is the fact that lighting is the ubiquitous in-building infrastructure. At the flip of a switch, a building can begin to measure the real world like the web.

Kevin Ashton, who coined the term IoT, defined it as:

computers [understanding] the world — without the limitations of human-entered data

Are BLE and smart lighting not building toward that on an unprecedented scale? Is that not the magic behind our example of the transcontinental move? Is that itself not akin to a Pervasive Sharing Economy?   That’s what happens when light hears ahead of its time!

Facebook, it’s time to “share” your view of the customer

At the 2017 Place Conference, on the Rx for Retail panel, Trace Johnson of Total Wine & More eloquently summarised his problem, one faced by so many modern retailers today:

“we need a unified view of our customer”

And while the panel concluded that there is no single vendor that can offer that solution, conference organiser Greg Sterling interjected:

“Facebook is the closest”

Indeed, Facebook, who also presented at the conference, have an unprecedented understanding of their 2 billion monthly active users, and already offer to their business customers arguably the best targeted advertising capability of any platform. And if the audience (or even Facebook themselves!) had any doubt about their presence in brick-and-mortar retail, these fresh stats hammered home the point:

Facebook in Stores

So what’s preventing Facebook from offering retailers a unified view of the customers that walk through their door — as they walk through the door? Not much we’d argue! In addition to having an established relationship with most retailers, they have both the digital view of the customer online and the physical presence of their mobile app in-store. From a technological perspective it’s entirely feasiBLE to connect the two!

Facebook User Identification

The above diagram illustrates how we see Facebook closing the loop. The missing link is essentially the Facebook app “advertising” a real-world cookie using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and the infrastructure to relay back to Facebook the precise real-time location of this cookie, whenever it is detected. With this in place, Facebook could push the retailer not only a unified view of their customer, but one contextually enriched with the on-line and in-store journey. As a result:

Facebook owns the user.   The retailer owns the in-store experience.

It’s important to note that Facebook did try to roll out a beacon infrastructure in 2015 which, unsurprisingly, didn’t work out (another presenter at the conference, TouchTunes, lamented the impossible logistics of maintaining their fleet of tens of thousands of battery-powered beacons). The differences in the scenario we present are the following:

  • Internet-connected mains-powered BLE infrastructure solves this logistics nightmare
  • Facebook doesn’t need to own/manage this infrastructure

At reelyActive, we’ve been selling such infrastructure to small and large businesses for years, and we’re not alone. But the game-changer will be when BLE capabilities are added to smart lighting infrastructure — which is actually happening even faster than we expected!  In short:

infrastructure can no longer be considered a blocker

Facebook can enable — with clear user opt-in, of course — their mobile app to advertise a user identifier in the form of a 128-bit UUID (which is supported by both iOS and Android).

Facebook 128-bit UUID

Any infrastructure in range would detect these BLE packets, and software such as our Pareto SaaS could establish their provenance from the Facebook app from the Public ID. The software can then forward the UUID to Facebook’s API along with the precise location of the receiving infrastructure. Using the Private ID, only Facebook can then look up their user and push any relevant info to the retailer’s back-end, for them to deliver the final in-store experience.

That in-store experience is what brick-and-mortar retail is all about, and we were (again) reminded that 9 out of 10 purchases are still made in-store. But without a unified customer view, how can we expect our local retailers to optimise the experiences accompanying 90% of the purchases we make? Especially when, as Verve’s Walt Geer highlighted, an increasing number of consumers themselves already expect this and won’t hesitate to opt-in for the promise of personalised experiences!

Opt-in for personalisation

Four years ago, when our vision of the future helped us win World’s Best Startup, we wrote Facebook, you might “like” this. Today as that vision is becoming a reality, we might instead say Facebook, it’s time to “share” your view of the customer.   How could that not be good for business?

Creating the next computing industry

How often do you interact with computers in a day? Likely on more occasions than you can count or even recognise! Can you remember a time when you didn’t interact with computers on a daily basis?

We’ve just added to our bibliography The Dream Machine, which recounts in splendid detail the history of interactive computing. It may come as a surprise that the essence of our modern computing paradigm (graphical user interfaces, personal computing, laser printing, Ethernet, …) was in working prototype form by the mid-seventies, the fruit of 5 years of corporate-funded research at Xerox PARC preceded by 8 years of government-funded research across US institutions through ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office.

The first director of that office, and the central figure in the book, is J.C.R. Licklider. Two years prior to taking that office, “Lick” would publish his vision of Man-Computer Symbiosis, envisaging the tight coupling of human brains and computing machines. Given that reelyActive’s vision can be summarised as computing machines understanding the world without reliance on human brains — arguably an extension of his vision — we asked ourselves what lessons we can learn from the history of interactive computing?

Coincidentally, we’ve had the recent pleasure of interacting with two key figures from the book: Vint Cerf and Alan Kay. Cerf’s three pillars for the IoT and his three-pronged call to action, which we discussed in Vint Cerf and the Good Fight for the IoT, resonate even stronger in light of this history. And Kay so eloquently reminded us:

“the goodness of the results is most highly correlated with the goodness of the funding”

Creating a whole new industry, as Kay and his colleagues effectively achieved at PARC, was contingent on good funding served with a good dose of patience: “I’ve never heard of VCs being interested in time frames like that”.

While Kay’s concern is very much consistent with our experiences fundraising as a startup, it is not without exceptions. In our blog post Investing in a Value-First Sharing Economy we highlighted an emerging investment philosophy best described as a two-step process:

  1. create the industry, open to competition
  2. out-execute any competition by leveraging the experience/goodwill gained

Clearly Xerox failed at Step 2 (the book examines this in detail). Incredibly, they’re not even the only textbook case among corporations headquartered in Rochester, NY! Remember Kodak and digital photography? Armed with so many lessons from history, especially concerning the execution of Step 2, would we not again expect good results from good funding, regardless of the funding source?

It has been four decades since the PARC breakthrough. The iPhone has now been around for a decade, today “tightly coupling” (or not!) our primary human-computer interaction through a 5″ screen. It is difficult to argue that this is the culmination of Licklider’s vision, but rather easy to argue that we’re (over)due for the next trillion-dollar computing industry. Goodness! With history as our collective guide, all that seems to be missing is some good funding sprinkled with a pinch of patience!

The next ambitious 5-year plan

To celebrate the five-year anniversary of reelyActive’s incorporation, we compiled the significant milestones of our history. Looking back at our origins, when our mission was to create the first simple and accessible cloud-based active RFID system we were reminded of the problems we were solving in 2012, namely:

A commercially-proven active RFID standard had yet to emerge
– we had to develop and build our own transmitter devices
– we had to develop and build our own receiver infrastructure

Every application was its own silo
– we had to educate clients and partners about the platform model
– we had to develop most applications from scratch

In essence, we were attempting to create both the technology and the market. We were confident about the former, our team benefiting from unparalleled domain experience. The latter, however, was a measured risk. Nonetheless, there was room for optimism thanks to a known, underserved need and to Wibree, the obscure radio protocol that had found itself a home in Bluetooth. Now, fast-forward to today, 2017:

Multiple commercially-proven RFID standards have emerged
– Bluetooth Low Energy became the de facto active standard by 2014
– RAIN RFID became the de facto passive standard almost simultaneously
– tens of billions of such radio-identifiable devices are already deployed!

An ecosystem of complementary technology platforms has emerged
– prospective clients and partners now expect the platform model
– we can forward data to third-party cloud applications in a single click
– smart lighting systems will soon displace our own infrastructure

In essence, the technology and the market now exist. We’re no longer obliged to build and deploy tags, infrastructure and applications. And we’re delighted to leave all that behind us!

Time for the next mission, one that we’ve eagerly awaited all along. It’s time now to make sense of the countless identifiable “things” detected and tracked by a heterogeneous mix of infrastructure generating unparalleled real-world contextual awareness that matters to countless applications. In short, to connect what’s going on in the real world right now with everyone who should rightfully know.

While that’s again quite the challenge, it’s certainly one that we look forward to looking back upon in another five years time!

Can you measure real-world behaviour using tools designed for the web?

Google Analytics for the real world.   Several companies have self-identified as such. We ourselves have written a blog post entitled Google Analytics for the Physical World. But what happens when you literally run real-world behaviour data through tools designed for the web?

Notman House Google Analytics

The above screenshot shows what happens when we do exactly that, using Notman House in our native Montréal as the test subject. The dashboard (shared here) was created using Google Data Studio based on data from Google Analytics (GA), industry-standard tools for measuring behaviour on the web. The source data, however, has nothing to do with the web.

Since 2012, we’ve had our infrastructure deployed at Notman House. Each of the orange dots in the above image represents one of our sensors: there are three on each floor, plus one in the café (not shown). These ten sensors detect, among other things, the Bluetooth signals of smartphones and wearables carried by the occupants of the house. Our Pareto SaaS relays this real-time location data to GA.

Steps are clicks

In web parlance, we’ve modelled Notman House as ten web pages with users being not the humans themselves, but rather their Bluetooth-emitting smartphones and wearables.

An obvious shortcoming is the fact that many people keep Bluetooth disabled on their phone, while conversely, an increasing number of people are carrying multiple Bluetooth devices: uniquely counting each human is impractical. But when you’re capturing 1000+ daily sessions, the trends certainly pervade as we’ll now show!

Hourly “occupancy” analytics

Notman hourly analytics

The daily occupancy cycle of Notman House is consistent week over week (dark blue vs. light blue bars), and concentrated between the hours of 8am and 7pm (graph is GMT, hence shifted 5 hours from local time), both of which agree with observation.

Sessions per page

Notman session analytics

User sessions were far more likely to include the Café and the 3rd Floor West, which is consistent with observation as both are event spaces which routinely attract the most occupants.

Sessions by device

Notman device breakdown

Similar to how web analytics can be split into desktop/tablet/mobile and browser type, Bluetooth packets often include information about the device type or brand (see Sniffypedia) which may be correlated with user demographics. Indeed we’ve observed seemingly characteristic device distributions based on region and venue (ex: office/store/school).

The verdict?

Can you measure real-world behaviour using tools designed for the web?   With little effort, using only the basic functionality of GA, we were able to extract the three highlighted metrics, each of which effectively captures the behaviour of occupants of physical spaces. Imagine the potential when leveraging the extensive functionality of tools such as GA.

Imagine as a retailer creating a Data Studio dashboard which compares e-commerce and in-store behaviour side-by-side.

Now imagine the additional granularity and insights when both people and assets are individually identifiable by opting-in with a mobile app or carrying an inexpensive Bluetooth beacon.

Time and again the web has shown that those who measure outperform. Not only can you measure real-world behaviour using the tools of the web, history suggests that, sooner than later, you definitely should!

Fear Not Distribution that Works

We recently attended the inaugural Digital Future of Work Summit at NYU where Michael Chui, Partner at the McKinsey Global Institute emphatically responded to a question saying:

I’m more afraid of income inequality than I am of Skynet!

Two weeks later, we attended the IEEE RFID Conference in Phoenix where Professor Katina Michael equally emphatically responded to a question saying:

I’m afraid that [Skynet] will exacerbate the problem of income inequality!

¡Hasta la vista, middle class! Will that really be the outcome of pervasive computing and the IoT? Because you can argue that we are building the equivalent of Skynet, the collective machine intelligence antagonist in the Terminator film franchise, albeit with the opposite intent — our vision is ubiquitous machine-contextual-awareness at the service of humanity.

What we see instead is the emergence of a Pervasive Sharing Economy which will empower resources, both material and human, to advertise and optimise their utility. And the pioneering spirit of the Internet and its proponents provides cause for optimism, as we argue in our post Vint Cerf and the Good Fight for the IoT.

Ultimately, however, financial interests will determine if and when this vision is realised. That is why we argue for Investing in a Value-First Sharing Economy. Investing in the paradigm of connecting rather than collecting information is perhaps all it takes to reverse our collective fear:

How will we distribute the unprecedented amount of value unlocked through massive gains in efficiency!

What’s in a name?

A clever yeti once said why create evil? In an age where companies such as Setec Astronomy harbour too many secrets, we at reelyActive strive to reveal, alert and avert the forces of eery evil through clarity.

Indeed, using creative tactics we remain reactive to every lie — each viler yet than rectal pain — and, standing tall, we erectly vie to elevate all which is vital for humanity to yet live & careactively — about the veracity of our collective reality.

On this first day of April, the clear eve of clever tease (don’t give us the evil eye!), we invite you to relive the comedic literacy of our past posts such as Limited Edition Artisinal Hub and A Fool to Open Source.

BYOD RTLS

While the terms bring your own device (BYOD), coined when employees started bringing their own phones and laptops to the office, and real-time location systems (RTLS), coined when RFID tags started to be tracked, may be unfamiliar to many, together, these concepts promise to have an impact that will soon become familiar to us all in our daily lives.

Chances are, you already BYOD when you’re out-of-home (OOH), simply by carrying your iPhone, Fitbit or Tile in public. And, perhaps surprisingly, that very phenomenon is the catalyst for a global sensor infrastructure that is enabling computers to understand the real-world in real-time. Yes, those devices you’re “bringing” can be located in real-time — and in this post we’ll do our best to convince you to be optimistic about the impact!

Today, BYOD RTLS is enabling anonymous audience measurement to improve customer experiences. And, the mass production of consumer devices has made radio chips so inexpensive and ubiquitous as to catalyse classic RTLS applications in industry, a cornerstone of the fourth industrial revolution. Before long everything will be radio-identifiable, extending the Uber and AirBnB phenomena to everyday commodities in the pervasive sharing economy. Here’s how and why.

Audience Measurement

When are people passing by?   What proportion pass through the door?   What are the most common journeys inside my venue?   Where do people spend the most time?   How much time?

These are the questions that a BYOD RTLS can answer, and our Pareto platform today provides those answers to retailers and OOH operators. By listening for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals, it is possible to respect the preferences of the end user who can:

  • turn off Bluetooth and avoid detection
  • be anonymously identified when Bluetooth is enabled
  • be uniquely identified with an explicit opt-in (see our previous post)

What does anonymously mean? At best we can segment by device type, as you can see in the image below and live on our website.

Advertising devices as detected by Pareto today

Brick-and-mortar retail knows it needs to compete on customer experience, and by answering the above questions — in a way that respects their customers’ individual preferences — the benefits extend right back to those very customers.

Classic RTLS without Vendor Lock-In

Where are my assets?   Where do they spend the most time?   How is work-in-progress moving through my space?   Where and when are there bottlenecks?

These are the questions that RTLS has been answering for two decades, albeit with sparse adoption in industry. The BYOD phenomenon is set to change that. Today a systems integrator — or even the industrial/commercial client themselves — can put in place a RTLS using:

  • BLE readers from a variety of vendors (ex: our reelceivers)
  • inexpensive Bluetooth beacons from countless vendors
  • middleware from a variety of vendors (ex: our open-source or Pareto)

When we founded reelyActive in 2012, we had to develop our own proprietary readers and tags. But merely a year later we were among the first to embrace BYOD RTLS when BLE seemed poised to revolutionise the industry by providing a global radio standard. The ability for any company to answer the above questions is far more valuable than pushing a proprietary platform, and all parties, especially the end-customers, benefit from the resulting massive gain in efficiencies.

The fourth industrial revolution is all about efficiency, and industries know they need RTLS to remain competitive. Fortunately it turns out that tracking in-store customer journeys and work-in-progress on a shop floor amount to essentially the same thing — how about that for efficiency!

The Pervasive Sharing Economy

Where is the nearest available bicycle?   What tools are available nearby?   Who can come and help me right now?   Clothing-as-a-Service???

These are the questions that soon we’ll not think twice about asking, expecting not only to receive an answer, but in fact the optimal answer. Already billions of products with an embedded BLE radio are shipping annually, and at least an order of magnitude more are shipping with a standardised UHF passive RFID tag (see RAIN RFID). Before long it will be commonplace for everyday products to be radio-identifiable in everyday situations, driving The Pervasive Sharing Economy where the “Uber for power tools”, the “AirBnB for storage”, and yes, even Clothing-as-a-Service, can finally thrive.

Indeed, everything becoming a shareable resource is the embodiment of our vision of ubiquitous machine-contextual-awareness at the service of humanity and is the reason we at reelyActive created open projects such as advlib and Sniffypedia to hasten this revolution. But already today, in the form of anonymous audience measurement and classic industrial applications, BYOD RTLS is making a significant impact which, we hope you’ll agree, has pertinent applications today and enormous positive potential over the long term.

“Advertise” yourself with The Physical Web, and beyond…

Would you wear a t-shirt that advertises a webpage?

Attend any tech conference and you’d be hard pressed not to spot one. In fact, most of us advertise company brands every day by much more than just the clothes we wear.

Now, would you wear a t-shirt that advertises YOUR webpage?

Why not? You are your own brand. Perhaps a t-shirt isn’t your preferred communication channel? How about a mobile app?

There you have it: within 30 seconds, you can be advertising your personal brand as a webpage via an Android application. And, more importantly, there’s a non-negligible chance that someone Nearby will take notice!

For those interested in the technology (or the nerdy featured image), it’s all standard: Android can advertise URLs in Eddystone packets over Bluetooth Low Energy. And our open source json-silo accepts the profile of any Person, Product or Place as schema.org and JSON-LD, and returns an Eddystone-friendly URL. When queried, the json-silo returns the profile name as the title, and the profile description in the meta, both of which are used by The Physical Web to present contextual notifications on mobile.

Contextual Notification on Nearby

In our previous blog post, we predicted:

this will be the year that a major social network empowers their users to “advertise” themselves in exchange for personalised everyday experiences

It’s technically possible. And the moment businesses start listening and responding to such ads, the incentives for both parties become undeniable. We’ve been preparing for that moment for a long time.

We are advertising!  The devices we carry and wear are already anonymously advertising our presence, and personalisation is inevitable. Here’s the question:  Are you listening?

OOH! A social media prediction for 2017

In 2016, we postulated that the Internet of Things may very well prove to be a personal brand ambassador for each and every one of us, given that the devices we carry and wear make it possible to “advertise” our digital selves to the physical places we visit. When the Local Search Association asked us and 50 experts about the future of location-based marketing and media we replied:

our prediction for 2017 is that the first major social network will empower their users to experiment with this feature

Technology is no longer the blocker, as you can “advertise” yourself with reelyApp using established standards as we described in detail months ago.

And we can already push the concept quite far in everyday life. We proved, with our partners, measurable ROI in retail with a live deployment that even triggers contextually-relevant videos on displays to shoppers:

Now extend that capability across a city. In anticipation of programmatic advertising, out-of-home (OOH) media companies are scrambling to adopt technologies that can measure real-world audiences in real-time. Such technologies will enable citywide marketplaces for the data you choose to share, as we presented at a recent Ericsson Smart Cities event:

All the emerging marketplace is missing is a critical mass of individuals with the incentive to “advertise” their digital selves. And a major social network is the ideal candidate to bring exactly that to the table.

We’re working to kindle that marketplace, engaging both sides of the table, and recently adding key enabling features to our Pareto platform, including programmatic content triggers. We even memed the personalised advertising scene from The Minority Report (2002) to serve as the default video content.

15 years ago, would you have predicted that we would today choose to carry and wear personal identification devices?

Are we right to predict that a major social network will empower such users to share what they want when they want in exchange for personalised everyday experiences? Let’s see what 2017 has in store, pun intended!