Australian startup Art Processors – founded by the team behind the technology used at Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) – is preparing to launch a low-cost indoor positioning system based on Apple's iBeacon specification.
Art Processors is responsible for MONA's much commented on 'O' Device, which replaces the labels seen in conventional museums and art galleries with an iPod Touch-based, location-aware rich media system that delivers information about nearby works.
Art Processors was founded to commercialise some of the technology used in MONA, and MONA's creator, David Walsh, is the startup's director.
The first generation of MONA's indoor location system was based on a third-party offering that the Art Processors team integrated with its own content management and distribution system.
In December MONA was refitted to use the new system – dubbed Enso Locate – which uses Bluetooth Low Energy and beacons designed by Art Processors.
The system is currently in a private beta. Although Art Processors won't disclose a full list of participants, the startup's CEO, Tony Holzner, says that along with MONA, the State Library of NSW and the National Gallery of Australia are currently employing Enso Locate.
Altogether, around 10 organisations are participating in the beta.
"Back in the day, indoor location was incredibly difficult, so we drew on third party systems that were quite complex and convoluted," Holzner says.
"It was very time consuming and very expensive, so with something like MONA we spent – very ballpark – in the order of half a million dollars just on the indoor location technology through a third party provider."
Enso Locate is cheaper and easier to deploy and easier to maintain, Holzner says. The system comprises the beacons themselves, which cost around $40 each, a cloud-based software system, and an SDK that currently supports iOS and Android and may offer broader platform support in the future. The previous system at MONA relied on wireless sensors that cost around $1000 each.
We're not targeting institutions like with our other platform; this is very much about getting it in the hands of developers and letting them build the types of projects that we did for MONA
The Bluetooth-based beacons are battery powered. A battery should last around a year and a half, Holzner says. The Beacons can be "sprinkled in strategic locations in a building." At MONA, about 8000 square metres is covered by around 200 beacons. Mobile phones that support Bluetooth 4.0 can then scan for the beacons.
"We run some clever algorithms and mathematics and we can — with on average plus or minus three metres of accuracy — pinpoint your location in the building," Holzner says.
"There's very little install time and there's no calibration of the system – you just put the beacons in, record their location in our cloud-based management tool, and then we have mobile SDKs that you install in your existing mobile application," Holzner says.
The offering is developer focussed, the CEO adds. "We're not targeting institutions like with our other platform; this is very much about getting it in the hands of developers and letting them build the types of projects that we did for MONA."
At MONA, the new system works substantially better than the legacy system and was an order of magnitude less expensive to install, Holzner says.
"It's more accurate and it uses a technology that's already in people's mobile phones, so you don't need extra hardware, you don't need extra servers; it's all client side."
"When you add all of those up, that means you can do very large scale projects; you can explore some very interesting uses for indoor location," the CEO adds.
Potential end users could be as "small as a cafe or as big as a hospital or an airport."
"It's about enabling what we call the next generation of mobile experience," Holzner says.
"If you have a grid of these and you have our SDK in your mobile application, that enables your application to have a sense of the physical context and it lets the person using the application get an understanding of their immediate surroundings.
"If it's in in a museum, obviously that's proximity-based content delivery about nearby objects. In a retail space, it's potentially delivering specials about products on the shelves or customer loyalty programs. In hospitals, airports and transit centres, it's wayfinding. So really it's an enabler for mobile application developers to do the 'next big thing'."
A beta kit from Art Processors includes 10 beacons and access to the cloud-based floorplan software and SDKs.