A recent SmartSource Rentals article argues that using beacon technology to track Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for meeting attendees is superior to any manual method. Manual methods, such as an attendance sheet or a bar code scan, are cumbersome and prone to human error. While this article is correct that beacon systems can be more efficient than manual techniques, Augmented Reality (AR) and WiFi technology are two additional options that offer benefits which can’t be easily achieved through manual or beacon methods.
SmartSource Rentals notes that a major drawback to beacon technology is the cost factor. As the number of attendees to an event increases, beacon technology will become more expensive. The wearable beacons cost around five dollars each, which adds up quickly in a large CEU conference. Even if the beacons are being used at the entrances and the reader is a mobile app, there is the logistic requirement of making sure that the correct beacons are at the entrance to the correct CEU sessions, in order to accurately track attendees. An AR app which interacts with the CEU presentation does not require beacons or other external equipment other than the attendee’s mobile device. Beyond the cost of initially developing an AR mobile application, which is comparable to the cost of developing or integrating a beacon tracking mobile app, there is little to no added per-attendee expense.
AR technology also circumvents several shortcomings in beacon tracking technology. Beacon technology only registers when the wearables pass through or near a sensor, or when the mobile device passes within range of the beacon. CEU students can simply leave wearable beacons in a room where the event is taking place, and then return to retrieve it after the completion of the training, and the system will register that they are in attendance. A mobile device can simply be turned off or have Bluetooth disabled and the student can leave the room untracked. AR technology, on the other hand, is connected to mobile devices and requires interactivity on the part of the attendee. The way it works is Augmented Reality technology triggers at unannounced points during a presentation, and attendees, as part of the presentation simply render an AR object using their device. This action is tracked and then acts as verification that not only was the student in the room, but that they were paying attention to the content.
SmartSource Rental’s article suggests two Bluetooth options for beacon tracking: a wearable beacon or a beacon-enabled app on a mobile device. Under the wearable beacon system, the software for analyzing the data comes from sensors at the entrances of the room. The beacon sensor tracks when the wearable passes through the sensor. The beacon-enabled app on mobile devices requires participants to connect their mobile device to beacons as they enter the room, and the app reports back to a server for processing. In each of these cases, the tracking determine entry and exit, but not attendance throughout. Requiring devices to connect to a beacon for the duration of a CEU session would require that the training room be small, and it would also drain power on the mobile device. Simply logging a device’s WiFi connection details can determine the proximity of the device to an access point throughout the duration of a training session. This means that software tracking WiFi activity can be relatively accurate in measuring that the student attended a session for its duration.
When it comes to using the student’s device, WiFi is a passive technology where Bluetooth is active and requires interaction. Students are likely to already have their WiFi enabled, particularly if the event is providing WiFi Internet service. If the event uses a captive portal, they can identify each device to the individual that registers it to the network. For CEU credits, all the student needs to do is be in the room, and the access point will track that the device is present. Bluetooth is generally used to connect to mobile devices to peripherals, like headsets and external speakers, and is more likely to be turned off by individuals to conserve power. Students would have to remember to turn on Bluetooth before passing the sensor, which may cause crowding around the entrances to the CEU session room.
Another important factor in designing a system that communicates with a large number of people is to ensure compatibility across a diverse range of mobile devices. Bluetooth beacons that rely on data can be inaccessible for devices with certain mobile carriers, operating systems, or security limitations on the types of Bluetooth activity they allow. Beacon tracking also requires the data from a Bluetooth app to be transmitted over a separate data connection back to an online tracking service. WiFi is a more universal feature on mobile devices and requires no app to be installed, no data form the device that it doesn’t already send, and no active participation on the part of the student. They don’t even need to connect to the network in order to allow for tracking, as long as the Access Points and the event know to associate the device’s MAC ID to the participant.
While we don’t disagree that beacons offer an advantage over manual methods of CEU tracking, we just wanted to point out that there are additional options as well, which can be more efficient and more cost effective when used at scale. To discuss any of these options further, or see how they can be applied to your specific event, please contact the Origin Development team.