Mobile Presence and iBeacon (discussion beginning 2015)


(Kristopher Kubicki) #1

Hello,

Would it be hard to add Bluetooth detection to the iPhone and Android apps? This really helps out a lot.

I purchased a very cheap iBeacon on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Geohopper-iBeacon-with-Power-Supply/dp/B00N17AU4K/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1429680236&sr=8-2&keywords=ibeacon

I then created a scene with Tasker that detects when that iBeacon comes in range.

Finally, I used SharpTools to set my presence detector to present() when it detects that iBeacon. In addition, I have it set away() when I am at my iBeacon at work, or when I connect to my car.

My Moto X does the same thing for its Home Detection schema, and Tasker has a very rich set of options for detecting home as well. It seems like a very easy addition for SmartThings. Until then, I’ll keep using @joshua_lyon’s awesome app.

Kristopher


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(DLee) #2

This, or variations of what you describe, is clearly the right path for instant presence detection. I saw hints in hub v2 threads that it’s being looked at. But why wait since most of our phones already support BLE. Would be awesome if this was built into the app so we didn’t have to do 3rd party apps and hacks. There is already a variety of battery powered BLE beacons available or launching soon.

The v2 Hub integration potential is also exciting. Would like to have the battery powered BLE beacons in my car and backpack etc and have hub know when I or other family members arrive. And tie in with phone app integration as you suggest, and my phone could tell the hub which room was occupied if I put beacons in each room. Can’t wait until this gets mainstream. Won’t be long now.


Garge Door Opener
(Brian Smith) #3

This is interesting…not because it is an iBeacon (there are a lot of those), but because of the price. Very inexpensive.


#4

It looks inexpensive because it’s not a battery-powered Ibeacon. It has to be plugged in. It does come with the plug but it’s something to be aware of.

The new Estimote stickers, which are due out in about a month, are battery powered and crush the price: $10 each when you buy 10. (These aren’t vaporware, a lot of people have seen them, they’re just waiting on their FCC certification. And you can buy the bigger ones now, although they are $33 each.)


#5

Okay, back to the question of ibeacons and the smart things mobile app.

Getting I beacons right is a lot harder than it seems at first, which is why so few apps use them now. Otherwise we would have microlocation for presence in every app that ran on a smart phone.

The biggest problem for practical use is local interference patterns. It just turned out that in practice that it’s hard to get this right. Because the distance sensing is based on signal strength, anything that interferes with the signal suddenly changes the detection.

They’re certainly good enough for retail store use, where I just want to try to catch someone who is near a display, and if I only catch eight out of 10 people that’s okay.

They work best for the “immediate” range, within 2 to 4 feet, mostly because there are fewer things that can interfere in that range. But while that’s great for a proximity switch, it doesn’t meet the use case most people are looking for with micro location.

So Estimote and other companies making I beacons are mostly basing micro location for the “In the room” level on two or three IBeacons all registering at the same time. Triples the cost and quintuples the complexity.

Geohopper works well to catch someone coming through the door or sitting at a desk. Not so well with someone walking around the room. So it’s better for arrivals then it is for “present.” In fact, some people who use Geohopper end up leaving the phone at their desk when they go to the restroom so they don’t trigger the “away” condition.

Anyway, eventually I think we are going to have IBeacon based microlocation. But it’s going to be trickier and more expensive then initial expectations. Which is probably why Apple has been noticeably silent about I beacons In relation to HomeKit.

And probably why companies like smartthings don’t have it already in their mobile apps.

Just a guess.


(Patrick Musselman) #6

Not the slickest option but how about and IFTTT. See #6 in link below.


#7

Hmmm…

When incipio announced their new homekit switches, which will function as the wifi/bluetooth bridge, their press release said it would have “proximity awareness.” Which could mean HomeKit won’t need IBeacons because they’ll be built into the wifi bridges.

Which would be…awesome! :smile:

Meanwhile, the most excellent IBeacon app from beacon sandwich has just been released in an Apple Watch version, beecon +

All interesting stuff, anyway. Of course we’ll have to see what actually gets delivered. But once one home automation system has reliable active microlocation, more will work on adding it.


(Kristopher Kubicki) #8

I get the feeling that beacon can be used as well rather than OR. Kind of like how Android uses Wifi and Android rather than one technology exclusively.

Somewhat interesting, I was digging through the SmartThings Android app and noticed it already asks for permission to access Bluetooth. I have the strong suspicion the code is probably there already

Kristopher


#9

We’ve been playing around with this. Started with a geohopper. Presence detection in a narrow area (about a 50’ radius) is excellent. Comes with an app that will do email or RSS notifications. Set up IFTTT as a “man in the middle.”

So far the detection is great, fast and accurate, but the connection to SmartThings has about a 3 to 4 minute lag. That’s OK for some things (warm up the house before I get home) but not others (open the door, I’m in the driveway).

Unfortunately geohopper doesn’t have an SMS text option (those process really fast through IFTTT).

Next step will be to test Beecon+, but it hasn’t been able to find the geohopper ibeacon, so I need to wait until we get some estimotes to play with.

So: Using just geohopper, I can determine presence (at one distance) well, but it takes about 3 minutes to trigger a ST action from it, using IFTTT as a man in the middle.

More testing later this week.


(Chris) #10

I just picked-up a Geohopper as well, though if the Beecon app can’t find it I might return it and pickup a RadBeacon USB (http://store.radiusnetworks.com/collections/all/products/radbeacon-usb-2). Let know if you ever got Beecon to pick it up.


#11

We did finally get Beecon to find it, although we had to unplug the Geohopper a couple of times. No idea what the problem was although ICE from reviews that other people also had issues.

We are continuing to experiment with the Geohopper. Still waiting on estimotes.

Detection continues to be fast and reliable. Using the Beecon app gives a lot more choices, so that’s the one I’m using.

The issue is still getting the trigger to SmartThings. We’ve tried RSS, email, gmail, and Twitter, all through IFTTT, and everything works fine, but with delays between three minutes and 15 minutes. So good for a lot of purposes, but not when I’m looking for.

In my particular case, I really want to use immediate proximity for touchless switches, so I need something quicker.

Right now I’m getting really quick response with IFTTT and SMS messages for other presence detection methods, but I need to figure out how to trigger those from Beacon detection. I looked into zapier, but it only polls every five minutes at the expensive rate, and every 15 at the regular rate so that doesn’t help.

Both Geohopper and beecon can do a get or a push to Web servers, so someone who had a local server set up could probably get really fast processing. I’m not planning to go that route myself.

Beecon has some built-in home automation integrations, but it’s all stuff I don’t have: wemo, Phillips, and LifX. I’m going to borrow some WeMo switches just to see how that goes. I don’t know for sure, but based on what they do have and don’t have, I’m assuming this is all via Wi-Fi. They also have built-in integration for gLOBAL cache’s Wi-Fi to IR Bridge, iTach, which is intriguing.

Someone with a set up like at @scottinpollock , where he already has the ITach and he already has a local server set up, could probably do a lot with ibeacons now.

Oh, I should note now that iBeacons work differently in android and iOS. If you have most Apple devices, the device is always listening for the iBeacon at the operating system level, with very low battery draw. If you are using native android, you have to have an app open that is listening, and batteries may not be as efficient. I expect there’s some way around that, maybe with Tasker, but I don’t use android so I don’t know.

The one Apple exception is the new watch. The watch can recognize beacons, but you have to have the app open. If you don’t have the app open on the watch, the paired phone takes over. That’s a battery draw issue.

So that’s what we’ve got so far. Still need to find a way to send an SMS via web service to IFTTT and get the timings on that.


(Dav Glass) #12

I picked up a Geohopper + bleu.io beacon and had terrible results from it. The thing I liked is the Geohopper app supports a web service call. So you should be able to hook it to an oauth ST endpoint for immediate results.


#13

Good point.

I know it’s not that difficult to set up a custom smart app to take these calls, but it’s almost impossible when, like me, you rely on a text to voice speech reader. Trust me, groovy is no picnic in that context.

Beecon has similar app functionality, by the way, but with more granularity. Geohopper pretty much assumes you always want the max distance. It’s all about entering or exiting a location. Beecon, which was designed for home automation, does more with immediate and near zones.


(Dav Glass) #14

Just installed Beecon+ and it seems to work much better than the Geohopper app. I have a beacon in my Garage but when I walk to the back of the house it says that I left. I may be able to put 2-3 of them around the house and have an app that determines if all of them say you are gone then set the presence as Away.


#15

Sounds great! I really like the Beecon+ app also.

I think there are three typical beacon use cases that would work well with smart things:

  1. geofence arrival/exit. The typical garage door scenario. Or, for pedestrians like me, front door scenario. You crossed the Geofence.

The issue here is exactly the one you ran into: how big is that fence. Do you need multiple beacons to cover the area you want covered. (You probably already know this, but major/minor is designed for exactly this.)

  1. room presence. Similar to 1, but with two twists: a) smaller region and b) walls count! This turns out to technically be the trickiest of all three. Because of the walls. People think of the room as being bounded by a wall, but radio frequencies don’t. Estimote has a solution for this for their commercial clients, but it involves one Ibeacon on each of the four walls.

  2. touchless switches. This is the one I really want. Based on being very close to the iBeacon, 2 feet or so. (“Immediate”) walls aren’t usually a big factor just because the immediate strength signal won’t be detectable through the wall anyway. Most common commercial use is for ticket passes. But in home automation, this is how you turn on a specific device by getting close to it, not just by walking into the room. (You turn it off by getting close to a different beacon.)

Beecon + does this really well for Phillips Hues and wemo switches through their native app. I want to add my smartthings devices. :blush:


(Dav Glass) #16

1 is the one I’m most interested in right now, 2-3 could get rather expensive with the need for that many Beacons. Unless we can get Beacons put into other devices like Motion/Open Close sensors, etc.

The reason presence is so difficult for me at the moment is that one, we live 2 blocks from the High School. So my son always appears and disappears from the geofence since I can’t make it smaller. And 2 is a funny one, we have a park behind our house that has a circular walking track. It’s very funny to watch my logs when my wife is out walking. When she gets on one side of the track she’s home, then on the other she’s away. If I wasn’t home, the house would likely be going nuts trying to arm/disarm the system based on her movements.

I just ordered 3 more of the geohopper beacons and they arrive this weekend. I can’t wait to test them out on the four sides of the house.


#17

Estimotes new stickers are disposables, $10 per unit sold in packs of 10 with an expected one year battery life. I’ll probably use those for some of the touchless switches. $10 for a year of use is worth it to me.

Geohoppers are a good price for plug ins, but I prefer battery.

edited to add rats! Just found out Estimote stickers will have a fixed range of 10 meters, useless for touchless switches. :disappointed_relieved:

Back to the originals, but they cost a lot more ($33 each).


(Dav Glass) #18

Yeah, the $33 price point is a bit high. I went with the $25 plugin beacons since they will be in fixed locations just to determine if you are in the house or not.


(Chris) #20

Yeah, I am stoked to combine the RadBeacon USB with a couple of my Leviton USB outlets around the house for some stealthy microlocation… Now we just need the software to catch up.


(Kristopher Kubicki) #21

I have those Levitons - I just put a bunch in. With Tasker I can do some cool stuff with room presence. Unfortunately, Tasker doesnt’ monitor the signal level. If I could get the RSSI / LQI into SmartThings or Tasker, I could do near perfect room presence.