As detailed in a blog post on AT Mac, iBeacon is a new technology that has a lot of potential for people with disabilities. iBeacons are small devices capable of emitting a low-power Bluetooth signal that can be recognized by an iOS device and used to trigger an action such as opening a website, playing a video or sound and more. One use case that is already in implementation is the use of iBeacons to provide environmental cues that help people who are blind navigate the environment in an airport or other place of public accommodation.
I had been curious about iBeacons for a while, and even purchased a single iBeacon from Radius Networks to try the new technology out. The one I got was only $29 and it works while plugged into a USB port for power. Other iBeacons have their own battery and don’t have to be plugged in, providing more flexibility of installation. In the future, I will probably buy the $99 3-pack from Estimote for this reason.
In preparation for a session at Closing the Gap focusing on how Augmented Reality and iBeacons can be used to provide UDL supports, I finally took the plunge and started experimenting with my new iBeacon. I created a simple content delivery app using the Beacondo software which is available as a free download along with an SDK. I followed along with the tutorials on the Beacondo site and a couple of hours later I had a working iBeacon app inspired by a similar one I saw demoed at this year’s Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in San Diego. At Closing the Gap, I will use this app to introduce iBeacons to the participants as they walk around the room and learn what an iBeacon is, the different types of iBeacons available for purchase, and how they are being implemented in education (with links to the websites of my ADE colleagues Paul Hamilton and Jonathan Nalder, who are the true experts in this area).
I couldn’t believe how easy it was to create the app with Beacondo. I just followed these steps:
- Downloaded the free Xcode software from Apple.
- Downloaded the Beacondo Designer software and the SDK.
- After watching the tutorials, opened Beacondo and got started customizing the various screens in the template included with the SDK. I had to include any videos and images I wanted in the app inside my project directory so that they would be available in the various pulldown menus inside Beacondo Designer.
- Clicked on Build and chose Xcode to preview the app using the iPhone simulator.
- Rinsed and repeated as needed to get my content looking the way I wanted.
- When I had the app looking just the way I wanted it was time to add the iBeacon and assign an action as demonstrated in this video.
- Did a final build for Beacondo Viewer, an iOS app that allows you to open your app for testing on your device. Building for Beacondo Viewer exports the app as a zip file that can be easily shared online.
- Uploaded the app as a zip file to Dropbox and created a QR code using Kaywa QR Generator, my favorite tool for creating QR codes.
- Opened Beacondo Viewer and chose the Scan from QR Code option, then scanned the QR code I had created earlier.
The first few times I did this I could not get the app to open in Beacondo Viewer. A quick email to Beacondo and they informed me that I had to change the ending to my Dropbox link from “dl=0” to “dl=1.” Beacondo will not be able to download the app’s zip file if it encounters a “Download now” screen and changing the end of the URL gets around that. With that small change I was able to download the app to Beacondo Viewer and the next time I walked into my room I was greeted with an audio message I had recorded and the app opened up directly to a page explaining what an iBeacon is, just as I would want it to do for participants at our Closing the Gap session.
From a UDL perspective, iBeacons could be really useful for embedding instructions and other context-aware supports that are available to learners when and where they are needed. Paul Hamilton does a nice demonstration of how he is using iBeacons to create learning centers in his classroom. iBeacons would be a great way to embed virtual coaches in these learning centers or stations to aid students with autism or executive functioning difficulties (think visual schedules, social stories and other supports that are triggered only when the user is at the location where these supports would be useful). I am also interested in the use of QR Codes, Augmented Reality and iBeacons to create layered learning environments where users have multiple pathways through the content, triggering on-demand access to background information or more advanced topics as they see fit.