I have wondered what the mysterious candy-box-like boxes that have appeared on bus stop signs in Helsinki Finland. HSL has installed at a total of about 1700 of this kind of boxes to bus and tram stops, as well as on buses and trams. They are also coming to metro stations.
These small boxed are digital Bluetooth beacons. They are installed to those locations allow HKL offer a wide range of planned real-time services location based to a smart phone in the future. HSL’s beacons are responsible for connecting the public transport user’s smartphone via a Bluetooth wireless connection to an application that he has downloaded to his phone.
The plan is that if you are waiting for a bus and have downloaded the HSL research application to your phone, you may in the future receive information particular this bus stop or the route you are using. The plan is to to be able to inform for example if
to notify your phone if a frequent shift is late. Beacons can also help with passenger counts and to survey the mobility habits of public transport users.
The location data on those beacons is made public and available for use by third parties in their own applications. Restaurants, gyms and florists alike can advertise their offerings to users of their own apps as they travel past the store that is near bus stop.
The open HSL Bluetooth Beacon API can be used to retrieve a list of Bluetooth beacons installed at stops and vehicles in the HSL area. The API is a simple REST interface that returns data in JSON format. Bluetooth beacon data can be combined with route guide interface and real-time interface data, for example, to identify which vehicle the user is on board.
How about the security and privacy issues? The Bluetooth beacons don’t collect any information about the passengers, just broadcast their ID to the users. Another thing is what information the apps collect from their users.