Bluetooth Beacons Help Navigate Museum Halls

by AMNH on

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The American Museum of Natural History has a lot to offer, and we want to make sure that visitors can always find what they’re looking for—whether that’s the Stegosaurus or a sandwich after a long day browsing the galleries. 

Blue Whale Explorer
The new Explorer app will be available for Android and iPhone.

That’s why we’ve updated our first-of-its-kind Explorer app. The latest version, which features a new look and enhanced wayfinding features, was developed with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies through the Bloomberg Connects initiative. Explorer is now available for Android on Google Play as well as on iOS.

When Explorer first launched in July 2010, it used a novel “indoor GPS” system that operated by triangulating the position of a visitor’s smartphone using signals from several of the Museum’s 300 Wi-Fi hotspots.

With this month’s update, the Museum begins using Bluetooth wireless technology, which uses short-range, low-power wireless devices called beacons for navigation. Explorer now uses a new location-awareness and mapping system powered by more than 700 Bluetooth beacons located all around the building. 

Explorer Menu
The new Explorer app will be available for Android and iPhone.

Smaller than a pad of Post-it notes, these devices contain fairly simple electronics: a circuit board that identifies each beacon with an individual identification number, a Bluetooth antenna that broadcasts that number, and a pair of batteries. Their implementation at the Museum is part of Aruba Networks’ pilot program. The company recently debuted a similar system in the NFL’s newest venue, California’s Levi’s Stadium.

Since all these beacons broadcast their IDs on the same frequency and at the same “volume,” a phone that’s running the Explorer app will be able to pinpoint its user’s location in relation to nearby beacon signals. The app can then calculate the best route from its current position to the entrance to an exhibit, a particular diorama, or the nearest cafe or restroom.