Nerdery Labs preps for iBeacon

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Nerdery Labs preps for iBeacon – Apple’s indoor microlocation service poised to go mainstream.

Launched in June, The Nerdery’s Lab Grants program provides employees with opportunities to experiment with emerging technologies ahead of the curve and on the company’s dime.

“Typically, we’re constrained by waiting for a client to come forth and pay for a project, so the Lab Grants are a way for us to play with stuff that we’re not hired to do…yet,” explains Mark Malmberg, communications director.

Of the numerous internal applications received per month, winning projects are selected through diverse committee of peers.   From there, the grantee has up to 40 hours of paid time to scratch their creative itch, rapidly prototype and ultimately present the results for all to see.   Their latest uses iBeacon:

“…iBeacon is not a device or a new piece of hardware like the TouchID thumbprint scanner. Instead, it is a public protocol or “profile” built on top of the Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) technology which has been present for several years in iOS devices: iPhone 4S and later, iPad 3rd Gen and later, and the 5th Gen iPod Touch. Bluetooth LE was released in 2010 as a lower-power, lower-speed alternative to traditional Bluetooth; devices broadcasting infrequently using Bluetooth LE can run for up to two years on a single coin-cell battery. Any device that announces itself using the iBeacon profile is an iBeacon, whether it is a small, dedicated radio device or an iDevice configured to broadcast as an iBeacon. Apple will not be producing any dedicated iBeacon hardware – that will be left to third parties. Android support for Bluetooth LE was added in 4.3 (Jelly Bean) so there will likely be Android iBeacons in the near future, too.”

In the Nerdery’s use case, an iPhone prototype ‘concierge app’ was created using 3rd party hardware obtained from Maker Shed to guide a guest through The Nerdery and pair them with human assistance as needed.  iBeacon grant recipient Joshua Sullivan foresees applications ranging from the obvious — retail, hospitality & entertainment — to consumer hacking projects with home automation.

Just this week, a US roll-out was announced for all of Apple’s stores, opening the door for new interactions ranging from a few inches to ~100 feet.

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“I have a strong personal interest in extending user experiences beyond the bounds of traditional mobile apps by interfacing with external technologies,” Sullivan says.  “I saw the Nerdery Labs program as the perfect opportunity to pursue that interest, figured that I would learn from some mistakes or come up with something cool.”

“In this case, well, we got both,” collaborator Jon Rexeisen chimed in.

Other experiments such as Tastemapper, a visual representation of musical tastes, and wearable technology via smart watches and Oculus Rift have been developed inside The Nerdery’s Lab thus far.

“It all comes down to what a ‘nerd’ is…someone who is very passionate about technology.  We’re always curious, exploring and engineering new creations.  The Lab Grants program allows us to branch out and tap our imaginations with the official approval and full support of The Nerdery, creating solutions to problems that may not even exist yet,” says The Nerdery’s tech evangelist and Lab Grants point person Ryan Carlson.

“If we haven’t done anything with iBeacon before, would anyone want to engage with us on a new project?  Examples like this really let us showcase our capabilities while having fun.  When we initially announced the Lab Grants program, everyone cheered.  Based on conversations with potential clients, they are equally excited.”

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