iBeacons and supply chains: making the physical digital

Two talks exploring the interface between the digital and the physical, from supply chains to the last few feet.

Two talks exploring the relationship between data and the physical world:

WARNING: Liveblogging – prone to error and inaccuracy. Will be updated/improved over the next 48 hours.

Jessi Baker

The Provenance Project

Businesses are often created through an asymmetry of data. Provenance is experimenting with the idea that openness and honesty could be a new source of value. The creation of stuff is affecting the planet – and that’s obvious to many of us, but we lack the information to change it.

Every single material on the planet is either grown or mined, and the planet is actually quite finite. Every product is just a blip on a supply chain and product lifecycle. We are quantifying more stuff about ourselves than ever before – through our Fitbits and our phones. We’re continuing to perpetuate the business model we mentioned – we give our data, but don’t get an overview back asymmetrically. Power and profit are coming from closed systems.

What if we quantify stuff? If we have data about all of our things – open data – we can use it as a design tool. We can quantify the embedded energy in a product from the start, and use that as a decision-making tool. Every product has a story, and the more we know about that, the more informed choices we can make.

Social media is an incredibly rich place to mine for data about products. Financial data is useful and can be added to the story. Provenance connects this supply chain data to products, and then pushes it into an open database. They’re working with Lilly Cole’s clothing brand for example, so that Provenance information can appear right in the ecommerce page.

This data can plot products on a map – based on where they’re made. You can search by location and material – “shoes made near London but not made of leather”.

We’re being farmed for our data every day. We need to open that data up again, to get benefit from it for us. And products seems like a good place to start. Their platform will be released this summer.

Alex Oelling

Alex Oelling


There is a “last mile” problem between the digital and physical worlds. iBeacon is a real micro-location based service. Beacons just send out IDs – that tells your phone to display relevant content. It’s essentially indoor GPS.

What does it have going for it?

  • It’s a known user experience – it’s integrated into existing apps
  • It works cross-platform

What about use cases?

  • Indoor navigation
  • Smart local information
  • Coupons
  • Hotel checkin
  • Retail/loyalty rewards

You need to offer use cases that develop what’s there already – make exiting apps better. Don’t spam people with notifications, because they will uninstall your app.

Sensorberg is launching a global iBeacon management platform, what they call a web API for the physical world. It’s a global system that links Beacons, apps and content stores, to make it much, much easier for you to add the tech to your app.