How to connect the Dots with cool new smartphone-friendly beacons

Kickstarter project from UC Berkeley engineers putting smartphone notifications into context

How to connect the Dots with cool new smartphone beacons
Iota Labs

A Kickstarter project for glowing Bluetooth beacons designed to make your smartphone more useful has blown past its $20K goal with about a week to go.

Iota Labs is building physical Bluetooth 4.0-enabled Dots that use location tracking to put your smartphone notifications into context. For example, stick one in the kitchen to prompt you to check food expiration dates or in your car to automatically open up Waze. Put one in the hallway to let you know -- via its LED color as it senses you being in the area -- if a roommate is home and might need a bit of discretion on your part. Or if you want to stretch this initially consumer-oriented product into a business tool, have one alert you to unread emails from your boss as you step into your office. (See Iota's video pitch below.)

dot Iota Labs

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign -- which ends on Sept. 21 -- had raised nearly $100,000.

Rahul Ramakrishnan, one of five UC Berkeley engineers/entrepreneurs behind the outfit, says: “Dot has a consumer focus as we built this company realizing that beacons have been approached the wrong way, going to retail first and then hoping it trickles down to consumers. We are flipping this system, using what we learn from consumers to approach retail companies and say, ‘Hey, here's how you can get value from beacons and their data because we know how consumers act.’” 

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The Class of 2017 Electrical Engineering and Computer Science/Business Administration student says that his team envisions Dots finding their way into convention centers, hospitals, hotels and other organizations down the line. 

The physical dots, 1 inch in circumference and 0.5 inches in thickness, are currently being pumped out via 3D printing and start at $20 apiece for Kickstarter contributors who donate that much. They work with a free app, initially available for iOS devices, with an Android edition on the way.  Specific use case programs can be downloaded from the Dot App Store.

The pitch I got from Iota referenced taking on the Google Now personal assistant technology, and Dots might also be considered competition for the likes of Microsoft Cortana or Apple’s Siri as well as startups grabbing millions in venture funding. Ramakrishnan says, however, that Iota is taking a fundamentally different approach, with Bluetooth 4.0 providing precision location and identity capabilities “at a granularity that GPS and geofencing cannot achieve.”

Other members of the Iota Labs team:

  • Kunal Chaudhary, Computer Science and Business Administration, Class of 2017 
  • Grant Empey, Computer Science and Philosophy, Class of 2018 
  • Rishabh Parikh, Computer Science, Class of 2018 
  • Anuj Chaudhary, Mechanical Engineering, Class of 2009
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