iPhone beside an Estimote Beacon

iBeacon Accessibility Ideas

Beacons are small smart devices that can give your phone or tablet a lot more information than they already have about where you are and what’s happening in the environment around you – it’s like giving your phone or tablet an extra sense.

Their most common use, at least so far, is for retailers to give you information when you come close to specific products in their shops – called micro-targetted advertising – but there are a myriad of possibilities for assistive technology uses for beacons too. This article lists some ideas for future using iBeacons to help people who have disabilities or are elderly.

Also in this series about iBeacons for Assistive Technology:

iPhone near an Estimote Beacon. Phone displays a coupon for discounted shoes, the shoes are visible in the background.
Micro-targetted advertising, sent to your phone just as you’re physically near a product, is something advertisers think is fantastic but there are a million more uses for iBeacons…

These are ideas which, as far as I know, have not already been implemented but which could help people with disabilities, chronic illness, and the elderly specifically:

Ideas for Using Proximity Sensing

Proximity sensing is knowing how far your phone is from a specific beacon, and hence how far away you are from the object the beacon is attached to.

Put a beacon on your assistance dog’s collar and be alerted if he leaves the property without you.

Put a beacon on your schoolbag and be alerted if you start to leave school without it.

Put brightly labelled beacons in the bathroom and have the phone display audiovisual prompts about how to wash hands, brush teeth, etc. when the phone is touched to the appropriate beacon. Extend this to other rooms and you have a house that helps somebody with memory or executive function problems to live more independently.

Put a beacon on your letterbox to simplify navigation home for a visually impaired family member after a long day at work or school.

Residential suburban street.
A beacon on your letterbox might simplify navigation home when tired.

Ideas for Using Temperature Sensing

A beacon that contains a temperature sensor can give you information about the temperature in a specific place.

Put a beacon on your medically fragile child’s wheelchair headrest and be alerted if the temperature around them gets too hot or too cold for good health.

Put a beacon in your fridge and know if you forgot to close the door again and it starts to heat up.

Put a beacon beside the stove and know if you forgot to turn off the stove and the area starts to heat without you in the kitchen.

Could a very sensitive beacon be used as a skin-sensing thermometer for somebody with trouble regulating their body temperature?

Ideas for Using Movement Sensing

A beacon containing accelerometers can tell you when and how it is moving through space.

Put a beacon on your mobility scooter and be alerted if it starts to move when you’re not sitting in it.

Red and grey mobility scooter.
Mobility scooters are frequently left unattended outside inaccessible buildings.

Put a beacon on your crutches or walking stick and by the acceleration pattern, know when they fall to the ground. Your phone could ask if you’re OK and call for help if you don’t answer.

Put a beacon on your child’s PODD book or other low-tech AAC device and track how many times a day it’s picked up and opened, whether they’re with you, with a therapist, or at school.

Put a beacon in their fridge door and be able to track if your elderly relative has remembered to open it to get themselves food today.

Put a beacon on the washing machine and be alerted when it stops moving that the cycle is finished and you should hang out the clothes.

Could a movement-sensing beacon identify an epileptic seizure when somebody is in bed at night, alerting the parents?

Ideas for Using Audio Sensing

A beacon containing a microphone could tell you about sound in its immediate environment. I don’t know of any beacons with sound sensors at present but more types of beacons are bound to be forthcoming…

Put a sound-sensing beacon at your front door and Deaf homeowners can be alerted to people at the door, even if they knock instead of ringing the doorbell.

What Might The Future Hold?

Startup company ifinity recently announced a version of a beacon that will recharge itself wirelessly, seemingly solving the problem of beacon battery life. Beacons don’t take a lot of recharging – current models can last up to a year on one charge – but if there are a lot of them that’s still a lot of batteries to swap out or recharge.

Small black plastic disk with an infinity symbol on the top.
ifinity’s AirBeacon doesn’t require batteries to be recharged.

Most importantly, remember that beacons is a VERY new area of technology. Remember how many of the solutions in the article about controlling infra-red devices with your iPhone or iPad were obsolete or nearly obsolete? That’s exactly what this area is going to look like in a few years, I suspect, as the technology changes super-fast and the market becomes more mature. Beekn blog had a great article about upcoming challenges facing Beacon technology for those who are interested.

Do you have more ideas for using beacon technology for disability applications? Let me know and I’ll add your idea to the list.

– Ricky

Feature photo from JNXYZ Education, used with permission. Mobility scooter picture from Michiel1972, via Wikimedia Commons under GFDL.

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