Japan Airlines, Aeon Mall Test Solar-Powered Bluetooth Beacons

The two pilot projects are using a Dai Nippon Printing Co. solution, made with Spansion's beacons.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 23, 2015

Japan Airlines is carrying out a Bluetooth beacon pilot project at 13 airports, using a solution provided by Dai Nippon Printing Co. (DNP). A similar pilot is being conducted by Aeon Mall at some of its locations in Japan.

At each site, DNP has installed Spansion's MB39C811 Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, which come with energy-harvesting power-management integrated circuits (PMICs), as well as a solar panel to capture power from the light and use that power to transmit data. DNP's beacon solution helps identify location data, which Japan Airlines and Aeon Mall can then employ in their own apps installed on customers' smartphones, in order to provide those individuals with relevant data.

Spansion's MB39C811 beacon comes with a solar panel, eliminating the need for a battery if the light level is adequate for generating sufficient power.
DNP, based in Japan, provides information media, printed materials, small cards and other technologies. However, the company is expanding its business into other markets, such as electronic devices and display components. Recently, the firm has begun developing a solution consisting of the solar-powered BLE beacons and DNP back-end software, to help users identify an app user's location, and thereby direct relevant information or media content to that individual's phone.

DNP calls the airport initiative with Japan Airlines the iBeacon Project. It launched the project on Oct. 9, 2014, with at least one beacon installed at each of the many entrance gates for departing domestic flights at 13 Japanese airports. The objective of the project, which is slated to end later this year, is to provide passengers with up-to-date information regarding their flights, and to enable them to automatically access boarding passes via a mobile phone app. They could then move through check-in more easily by showing the boarding passes to airport personnel.

Because the beacons were installed in low-light areas of the airport, USB connections are being used to supply additional power.

First, users download the latest version of JAL's Countdown application from iTunes, which many of the airline's customers already use to obtain such information as flight delays or weather at destination cities. The JAL uses a software development kit from DNP to add functionality for the use of the beacons and DNP's back-end beacon software. When a user arrives at a gate equipped with a beacon, the phone detects a transmission from that beacon, the unique ID number of which links to the specific gate. The Countdown app, which JAL recently updated to support beacon technology, then opens a Web page that displays the passenger's flight data. The beacon can also launch the display of the boarding pass on that person's phone, so that he or she can simply show the phone to the ticket agent at the gate. The beacon-enabled Countdown app operates only on iOS phones. JAL offers an Android version of its Countdown app, but currently does not support the use of beacons, though it might do so in the future, says Go Obara, Dai Nippon Printing's assistant manager of communication and information operations.

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