The City of Amsterdam teams up with Glimworm Beacons and KPN to build the worlds first iBeacon Living Lab and public LoRaWAN network

Starting January 2016, the Netherlands will host the rotating presidency of the European Union in Amsterdam for six months. During this period the city will hold many events in on the historic Marine Base- The Marineterrein–  now an innovation hub and home to Startup Delta and now the IoT experts Glimworm.  To help the city showcase innovation for the European Presidency they created an iBeacon Mile from Amsterdam Central Station along the old harbor past the new Public Library, the Nemo science  museum and the Maritime Museum ending at the Marineterrein.

iBeacons

what is a Beacon?

A beacon is a device that transmits via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and the Apple iBeacon protocol a radio signal that can be picked up by smartphones, wearables and other devices and triggers actions in Apps. With iBeacon and beacons, the location of BLE active devices can be precisely determined and via Apps can send a application-specific, location-based information. The information depends on the application, such as a coupon that gives a discount at a bar or restaurant or a historical video that shows what the location looked like in the past.

A beacon, in many cases, is fixed to one specific place or object, making the location of devices connecting with it determined with great accuracy. When the signals of multiple beacons overlap each other, this can facilitate further improved accuracy.

Because beacons are so small they are unobtrusive and can blend into an environment and this makes it less likely that they will be removed or damaged. In several museums where beacons are already being used, it is even intended that they are completely invisible, so they do not distract the visitors.

The Amsterdam iBeacon Mile and IoT Beacons

In the past, the reach of a beacon BLE signal was about 50 meters distance from the transmitter or 100 meters in diameter . For the iBeacon Mile- actually about 3.4 km- this would then require 3400/50 = 64 beacons for complete coverage. Newer beacons, however, have a greater range, testing at 80-120 meters, so fewer beacons are necessary for the same coverage.
In the case of the iBeacon Mile, this is a combination of between 40 to 60 Glimworm V2 and V3 Beacons and 20 new LoRaWAN enabled ‘Smart’ sensor integrated Beacons or “IoT Beacons”. The latter have the advantage that they not only send but also receive data thus enabling Machine to Machine (M2M) communication applications. LoRaWAN is a new standard M2M protocol, suitable for sending small amounts of data over long distances – 3km in the city and up to 30km in rural areas – and is seen as the future of IoT bidirectional communication.  Combining iBeacon with the new LoRaWAN protocol makes it possible to gather data from the beacons over very large areas and send it to the Cloud where the data can become useful and meaningful.  Recently, Glimworm and KPN implemented the first such network in the world successfully installing and testing it on the iBeacon Mile.

What is the goal?

For many companies – both in software and in the creative sector – it is difficult to develop smart city applications and applications because there are a lack of good testing environments. You would require consent of all parties (municipality, companies, etc.) to create an effective test environment. Think about it, you must install the beacons, preferably in the public space where you need permission, and so on.

The iBeacon Mile is explicitly intended as living lab, where all interested parties (citizens, companies and universities) can test and develop applications. Discount coupons and other location based services are of course obvious but the consortium also hopes other innovative concepts will emerge from the initiative.   Among others, the Institute of Sound and Vision (The Netherlands national audiovisual archive) will be able to offer location-based content to visitors for the European Presidency.  The data and platform are open and all developers can use the beacons to develop on the basis of new applications and concepts.  Everyone can walk along the iBeacon Mile and try these new apps so we can experience what the project iBeacon Living Lab and the City of Amsterdam have achieved in cooperation with several partners.

Bus and tram shelters and billboards

the iBeacon Mile is set up by a consortium of a total of 20 parties, led by the City of Amsterdam and beacon maker Glimworm. All partners, which include KPN (LoRaWAN infrastructure), Appsterdam (developer community) University of Amsterdam, Intel, Yenlo (WSO2), The Waag Society and JC Deceaux,  invest in the project providing money or goods and services. The last name might not be familiar, but they manage the city’s bus and tram shelters, billboards etc. For the project they are planning to provide two large 10m2 outdoor screens where hyper relevant interactive content can be displayed when triggered by the beacons.  Now they are placing beacons in the shelters at bus and tram stops around Central Station and along the mile so, for example, advertisers can target their audience and send messages per shelter or billboard.  JC Decaux are working closely with Glimworm and inBeacon (a beacon platform provider) to extend the mile over 12 km along the historical harbor in time for SAIL 2015 this Aug. 19-23.  In principle, the consortium is open to anyone who can make a meaningful contribution or provide places where beacons and IoT Beacons can be installed as well as stimulate communication about the project.

Amsterdam Smart City

It has long been the desire for Amsterdam to develop into a true smart city this initiative is a step in that direction.   The city even has its own Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Ger Baron who’s mission it is to push innovation forward in various sectors. That is also one of the challenges for a “Smart City” which can mean anything depending on who you ask. For some, it’s a city with a smart grid; others may believe that citizens should participate in creating a Smart City by contributing data for example- air quality and noise levels. The Beacons and IoT Beacons are also part of the Smart City concept and offer new possibilities in the field of location based services and new business models.

Planning

The time lines are relatively short since the Amsterdam begins hosting the European Presidency beginning January 2016 when everything must be ready. This summer, the formation of the project team should be complete and the consortium members have begun setting up the infrastructure.  The first phase of the iBeacon Mile was officially opened on July 23. During the Grand Opening event, partners provided some background to those who were interested in the project and exploring the Apps that have been developed so far including: BarDoggy a smart hospitality app, the prototype App of the Institute for Sound and Vision and a preview of the SAIL 2015 App via partners inBeacon.

SAIL 2015 Amsterdam and the future

Taking  place every five-years it is the world’s largest free public event with 2.5 visitors expected this year to tour the historic Amsterdam harbor where over 60 of the tallest sailing ships from around the world will be docked.  SAIL 2015 will have it’s own App available for download in the Apple App Store and Google Play soon and they are co-ordinating with the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and other cultural institutions to provide hyper relevant cultural content to be triggered by beacons on the ships, along the harbor and the iBeacon Mile.

But this is just the beginning- the plan is to begin this fall with the installation of more than 2,700 beacons and several hundred LoRaWAN enabled IoT Beacons at bus and tram stops and billboards in the greater Amsterdam area including several trains stations and Schiphol Airport. Also, they plan to instal in innovation hubs such as Universities, startup incubators and accelerators, and co-working spaces around the city. The initiative intends to rapidly expand the largest public beacon network and thus the largest Internet of Things (IoT) Living Lab the result of which is to stimulate the growing IoT economy with at least twenty apps available by the end of the year.

Source: Intel IQ (Dutch)

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