Ford Dealers Will Test Beacon Technology To Assist Car Shoppers

DETROIT Ford plans to test "beacon" technology at a number of dealerships, allowing shoppers to learn more about vehicle features using their smartphones.

The beacons are small, low-cost, battery-powered transmitters that use Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) wireless connections to send messages to a receiver, usually a phone or a tablet. Several beacons placed at various locations on a vehicle would be able to tell shoppers about features and specifications.

Ford spokesperson Elizabeth Weigandt told Edmunds: "When visiting a dealership, customers would first opt-in to the dealer's free in-store Wi-Fi system, then, when they approach vehicles that are fitted with beacons, they will receive educational push notifications on various product features and technologies selected by the dealer."

For example, a beacon attached to the front of a 2015 Ford F-150 pickup might send a message telling the shopper about its LED headlights. As the customer moved to the back of the vehicle, another beacon would provide information on the integrated tailgate step.

Someone looking at a 2015 Mustang GT could learn from an underhood beacon that the 5.0-liter V8 engine puts out 435 horsepower, and a beacon near the windshield might give them some information on the car's adaptive cruise control and rain-sensing wipers.

Weigandt noted that Ford is "really exploring at this point. We're looking at how this technology can fit into the dealership experience, and we're asking how we can make the shopping experience better for customers."

Although Weigandt was unable to share an exact timetable, she said Ford's plan is to test the technology at select dealerships before rolling it out more widely.

Several companies are making beacon technology available commercially, including Cisco and Apple, which, not surprisingly, calls its model the iBeacon.

One application is in shopping malls, arenas and other indoor spaces, where beacons can help people find their location even when poor cell reception makes GPS positioning difficult.

In retail settings their use is similar to what Ford is exploring: seamlessly sending product information to shoppers as they browse through a store. Beacons are also being used to facilitate the checkout process through in-store wireless payments.

And the applications don't stop at retail. At the 2014 SXSW festival, attendees were able to register more quickly by getting a confirmation alert on their smartphones when they were near a registration booth. They also received information about events from more than 50 beacons placed around the convention center.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts is conducting a beacon trial in a number of locations at which guests can check in, find their room and even open the door using their smartphone instead of a key-card.

And last year, Major League Baseball installed beacons in 28 U.S. ballparks, allowing fans that check in at games to receive special offers, merchandise coupons, seat upgrades and even game information on their phones.

Future applications could include airports and ground transit systems, where beacons might, for example, send messages about delays or gate changes to travelers' phones. They're currently being tested at the Dallas Fort Worth and London Heathrow airports.

Edmunds says: Beacons could be a convenient way for consumers to learn more about vehicles on the dealer's lot, even when a dealership is closed.

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