FileMaker 15: Introduction to iBeacons

Martha Zink explains how FileMaker 15 interacts with iBeacons, bringing together physical space with data stored within a FileMaker app. This video shows the new FileMaker function, RangeBeacons, discussing the necessary and optional parameters, as well as the results from the function.

Video Transcript:

Hello, my name is Martha Zink and I’m with Soliant Consulting. This is my first video on iBeacons in FileMaker 15.

iBeacons are a cool technology. They are these little Bluetooth-emitting devices that you can place around some location, for example, a warehouse, a museum, a zoo and so on. Before I get into the technical stuff, let me paint a scenario to kind of give you an idea of where this would apply. Imagine being in a zoo and wanting more information about the animals around you. Or being in a warehouse and knowing what part of the warehouse you might be close to.

The example that I have chosen is the idea of being in an art museum, seeing what pieces of art are near you, and getting more information about that artwork. Here, we are looking at my iPhone. I am going to click on this “Refresh” button at the bottom of the iPhone. You’ll see I get “searching for iBeacons.” This is a dialogue that I wouldn’t show to users. But, basically, it is the result of the beacon range function. It is going to give me a lot of information.

There at the bottom, I have another calculation that tells me how many beacons it found. In this case, it found one. It shows me the artwork that relates to that iBeacon. Now, I am going to move my iPhone a little bit closer to the other iBeacons in the room. You’ll see that now it has found two iBeacons. I see what is nearby, and I should see those two different pieces of art. I could click on either of these images, and I would be able to get a world of data about Persistence of Memory or Starry Night. Information about the art itself is available as well. I could get suggestions, for example, “Hey, if you really like this, go check out this piece over on the second floor,” and so on and so forth.

With iBeacons, we are marrying our physical location with data stored in FileMaker. That opens things up for businesses because now a user is getting information that is pertinent at that moment. I don’t have to go in and search for the Persistence of Memory. I don’t have to go through a bunch of web pages to find out what I want. FileMaker knows where I am, or has an idea of where I am and I can get some information based on that.

Let’s talk about how this is all set up in FileMaker. Here, on the left side of the screen, is a layout that shows you what we were looking at on the iPhone. On the right side of the screen, I have a separate window, and these are just fields on a layout. This function is called “RangeBeacons.” The function itself can have up to four parameters: the ID, a timeout number, a major, and a minor. The iBeacon has three pieces of information it sends back: the ID, a major number, and a minor number.

If you look here on this screen, there is data that I’ve collected from the iBeacons. We see the ID, the major number, and the minor number. These are sorted, so you will see the same number repeat a lot. Consider these three numbers the ability to define something explicitly. Normally, when we see an ID like this, we think of it being a unique ID, and really, it’s a group unique ID. This ID is going to define a group of something. I could have ten iBeacons, and they could all have the same ID. That ID could represent a floor,  a different building, a different store, and so on.

In my example, I am only using one ID for all of the different iBeacons that I have. Presumably, this is because they all belong to one museum. For FileMaker and for the function that we call, we need to know what that ID is. You wouldn’t want a very large number of IDs because you have to explicitly call for that ID.

The major and the minor are two different fields. They are two different numbers that I can use to better define something. I could tie this major number to a museum. I can tie this major number to a specific work of art. For example, the number nine means something. If I scroll over a little bit, I know that nine is the A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La work of art. If I scroll down, I can see the Madonna in the Church is 7 and so forth.

Now, I am choosing not to use the minor. It didn’t fit into this example. I could use the major and the minor in a different way to almost create a hierarchy, but in this case, I didn’t. I’m sure there can potentially be a lot of questions revolving around how you set these numbers. That actually depends on the iBeacons that you buy and the way you set it up through their site. That is not specific to FileMaker; those are specific to the devices that you purchase.

By using a combination of these three values (those are the only three things that you can get from an iBeacon), you can basically define where someone is. Let me go back to this Beacon result. With the range Beacons function (and we’ll look at this in a script in a second), you are required to provide the ID. There is the ID of the iBeacons that I have. And you can even define the major and the minor. If you’re looking for something very specific, you don’t have to filter through a long list of iBeacons. If you were in range of ten iBeacons, but you knew you were looking for things in the major number of four, you could narrow it down to that. You wouldn’t be required to filter down through a bunch of other majors that didn’t make sense.

That is what you give FileMaker and what you will put in a function. In my example, when the user clicks on the refresh button, it runs a script. This grabs the beacons that are nearby and then it puts them in a variable. Then it basically loops through all of those majors and does a find for them. I’m using that little bit of data that I get from FileMaker and I’m really giving the user a lot of data based off of that.

Well, if that’s what I give FileMaker, what do I get from FileMaker? What I get from the range beacons function are six different things. This is what the format would look like. For example, when I found the two beacons, the data would look very similar to this. But let me switch back to that beacon history where it is a little bit more spread out so it is easier to read. The ID, again, is the ID of the iBeacon. In concept, it’s the ID for a group of iBeacons.

The major and minor are just two other identifiers for the iBeacon. Proximity is a number from zero to three that FileMaker defines. It basically says how close that iBeacon is. So, a one says that it is pretty close, a three is that it is pretty far, and then a zero would be that it couldn’t decide. The accuracy is measured in meters. Then, the RSSI is the strength of the signal in decibels.

Now, I want to caution you about these three values. They are quite variable. The devices that we are talking about aren’t meant to define distance so much. They are meant to define proximity. We are close to something. We might be close or closer but it’s not whether it is one foot versus two feet. It’s really five feet versus ten feet or more. Probably with ten feet being the lowest measure we would want to use there.  These numbers, even if you didn’t move your phone or your device very far, could have a huge impact on your results. Again, we’re going for the grander scheme of here is what we think is around you, not necessarily what is really close to you; we’re not putting a lot of accuracy against it.

What I like about this technology is that we’re taking the real world and where we are. We’re getting data that is important to us at that moment. It could lead me to different places; it could give me related information. For example, in the museum scenario, I could look at a specific piece of art. I could look at Madonna in the Church and click on it and get some information about other pieces of art in other parts of the museum that I might really like. It’s broadening someone’s information, but it’s giving you relevant data at that moment.

So, just as a quick summary, from a FileMaker perspective, there really are only two things that are important here. That is what the function is, which is the RangeBeacons function. And there, you’ll need to give it at least a UUID. The other important thing is what you get back from that – the identifiers and information indicating distance. It tries to give you an idea of how far you might be from an iBeacon.

I’m interested in this technology because I think it is going to really expand what we can do with FileMaker. And it will make FileMaker apps more relevant to any given person who is interacting with that data.

This is my quick and dirty example of what the iBeacon technology is and how it ties into FileMaker.

Stay tuned. I’m going to create a couple of other videos talking about iBeacons and how the technology can help a business by collecting information, as well as using iBeacons to provide users with a really rich set of information, much more in depth than what I am showing you here.

Don’t forget to subscribe to Soliant TV. Thank you for watching!

Next FileMaker iBeacon videos:

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