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July 20, 2015

Beacon of light

Ever watch one of those videos from the 1950s that introduces, in astonished tones, the technology of the distant future? If you ignore the prognostications of flying cars and atomic toilets, many of the basic ideas foretold in those videos have been coming true over recent years.

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  • Words: Owen Lindsay
  • Pictures: Jonathan van der Knaap

Yes, it’s official: we are now living in the future.

Two men who are doing everything they can to bring us more fully into that future are Michael Jones and Paul Coldrey, who specialise in the field of ‘ambient technology’. Although that term may sound bafflingly vague, it basically comes down to one very simple idea: technology that knows where you are, in real time.

Today, this kind of location tracking technology is in demand internationally by a surprising variety of industries – and Michael and Paul were among the first in the world to develop it, beating even Apple to the punch.

Michael and Paul’s path to the cutting edge of technology began in 2008 when, after several years of working as independent software developers, they formed their first company, Lumient. Today, from their office overlooking the length of Rundle Mall, they run three companies: Daelibs, (which handles location attendance), Kenesis (which handles Bluetooth beacons), and Lumient (which writes software for the other two).

Location attendance, Michael explains, is easy to understand: “we essentially have devices that people carry, and those devices record where they are – it sends the location attendance stuff back to our server”. This type of technology is used predominantly in the security industry, where staff can use the devices to check in at waypoints along their inspection routes.

As for Bluetooth beacons, they’re the little units that sit quietly inside of stores and can recognise when a customer – or, more accurately, a customer’s smart phone – is nearby. If the customer has the businesses’ app, they might be sent information about a sale related to their interests, and then provided personalised service when they arrive in store.

“If you’re at a busy airport and you need to get to your gate, an app could know where you are and show you how to get there. Or if you’re in a museum, it could walk you through all the exhibits…”

“That’s just the retail aspect,” explains Michael. “There are lots of other, different applications. You can use it for way finding: if you’re at a busy airport and you need to get to your gate, an app could know where you are and show you how to get there. Or if you’re in a museum, it could walk you through all the exhibits, and as you walk it knows where you are and it will tell you about the exhibit. The applications are limitless.”

Although ambient technology is still in its very beginnings in Australia, in some parts of the world it has already become integrated into the daily functioning of the city. “Throughout Scandinavia, for example, they’ve really embraced it,” says Paul. ”They’ve got things everywhere that provide information to tourists, and help locals get home quicker based on traffic intelligence.”

As ubiquitous as it now is, only five years ago, in 2010, Michael and Paul had a tough time explaining even to others in the industry that there was great potential in using Bluetooth to locate people. “In fact,” says Paul, “when the hardware guy we work with first spoke to Bluegiga (the guys who make Bluetooth chips) about using them for positioning, they said ‘that’s just stupid, that’s not what it’s intended for, why would you do that?’ – And now everyone does it!”

They may have been ahead of mega-corporations with that particular innovation, but the rapid pace of the tech industry means that there’s little time to bask in past glories. When CityMag visited their offices, Michael and Paul were tying up their first deal to export internationally, to the UK, and they are constantly brainstorming and developing new applications for ambient technology. Continuous innovation is a crucial part of the businesses – because the future, after all, is now.

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