Wearables has become a household name. Could nearables be next?

(Estimote)
Estimote is calling its new beacons nearables. (Estimote)

The start-up Estimote announced on Thursday that it’s releasing what it calls stickers, Bluetooth-powered beacons that are about the size of jagged quarter. With their lean profile, they can be stuck to common objects, furthering the company’s vision of empowering how we connect with physical spaces.

While Estimote’s initial, golf ball-sized beacons lend themselves to being attached to walls and ceilings at retails stores and sports stadiums, the stickers open a new frontier.

“Before it was impractical to hide a beacon in a shoe, or attach one to your shoe. Now it becomes pretty practical,” said Steve Cheney, Estimote’s senior vice president for business. For example, an Estimote sticker attached to your dog’s collar could give you an idea of how active it’s been and exactly where it is.


Imagine tracking how much exercise your dog is getting. (Estimote)

In an emerging field, Estimote hopes its distinct and mobile sensors — which sense movement and temperature — will capture the imagination of developers, leading to breakthroughs in the beacon space. A must-have app that leverages beacon technology has yet to emerge. And despite rumblings of news, Apple has yet to seriously push the beacon space.

“It’s very early innings. It’s like Bitcoin,” Cheney said. “We think that sensor-based technology and the ability to have your phone scan for objects, you can create value. The question is what is the reoccurring value? Is it walking out without paying? Being able to detect something about your physical environment?”

Estimote’s stickers will be sold in packs of 10 for $99. They’ll ship this fall. Estimote is currently beta testing them with Cisco, IDEO, the Guggenheim Museum and others.

I spoke with Cheney Wednesday and he mentioned one interesting potential for retailer. A sticker could be placed on all items displayed in a retail store. If a consumers picks up an item, or carries it to a display screen that senses it is nearby, relevant information could be triggered:

(Estimote)
Estimote thinks its beacons can help reinvent the retail experience. (Estimote)

Or a brick and mortar retailer could borrow Amazon’s tactic of showing items a customer recently viewed. If a customer had interacted with items tagged with a sticker in a store, they could be reminded of them while using the store’s app or Web site later. (Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without a consumer having the relevant app and agreeing to sharing their data with a store. So retailers would have to make sure such services were rewarding enough for consumers to download the app and agree to share their location data.)

Estimote is cleverly referring to the stickers as nearables, a term it’s trademarked. Everyone knows what wearables are. There’s constant talk of innovation and new wearable devices. When I mention Bluetooth low energy and the edge of networks to non-techies, it’s tougher to explain the potential of sensors in everyday objects. But nearables? That feels like a phrase that could catch on. It’s definitely better than the “Internet of Things.”

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland · August 21