If you saw the Spielberg movie “Minority Report,” you watched the policeman played by Tom Cruise run through a mall, pistol in hand, chasing the bad guys. A video display greeted him by name pitching him a companion product to one he bought a few months before.

As so often happens with sci-fi writing, what was once science fiction has become science fact. They are called BLE Beacons.

Nokia in 2006 greatly reduced the power consumption of Bluetooth chips making it possible to put Beacon transmitters into low cost devices whose battery can last for up to two years. Since 2011, the iPhone and, since 2012, the Galaxy have shipped with BLE Bluetooth chips inside.

Retailers have latched onto the Minority Report idea to target advertising to a single individual. The $25 beacons are so inexpensive, they can be deployed in stores in great numbers. And they are small, some are just stickers, with a powerful computer chip onboard and Wi-Fi.

Because beacons talk to each other, transmitting their signal at a distance up to 100 meters, they can locate a smartphone within a few centimeters using triangulation. Every smartphone has a unique serial number, the IMEI, so the beacon knows who is located near them. They can determine their name and buying history, because cell phone companies and other retailers are selling such information to data brokers. Even if they do not know their name, they still know their number because each person is tagged with a serial number by their phone.

Women shopping and using her phone

To give an example, if James Bond is hanging out at the perfume counter at Harrods, where he bought perfume for Money Penny and M last year, the store can send Bond a notification offering him a discount to prod him to buy again.

Apple is trying to rush out in front of this market by licensing its own BLE technology, called iBeacon, to beacon manufacturers. Apple has built the ability to receive notification in their phones from iBeacons since iOS7. This means the retailer does not have to deploy an app to the iPhone, unlike Android, who has not yet done that. On Android, the retailer would need to get the customer to install a Beacon app. It does not need to be the retailer’s app. It could be any app that enables notification.

At Seamgen we understand all of this and have helped our customers rush their ideas to market. And these ideas are not limited to retail.

Because of The Internet of Things, so much more is possible. For example, a BLE beacon can recognize someone and unlock the door. Sports fans can pass through the turnstile without a paper ticket. Children can be entertained by two toys that play with each other. Online dating might disappear as a cell phone can alert someone when a passerby’s pulse shoots up. In what could be the biggest seismic shift of all, Google could find its advertising market shrink, as advertisers might not want to buy advertising pitched to a wide audience, which often targets the wrong people. Ad dollars are better spent targeting a single individual whose purchasing history, sex, age, language, and education the retailer knows. Questions about beacons or if you’d like to know how to keep your customers happy using beacons, contact Seamgen.