Software

Meet Proxima: How Two Sydney Devs Are Re-Shaping Geolocation For iOS

Ever wanted NFC payments and geolocation that doesn’t drain battery on your iPhone? Two Sydney guys invented the next best thing. This is Proxima.

After every new iPhone release, developers and payment junkies alike bemoan the fact that Near Field Communication has once again been skipped. But just because NFC isn’t in an iPhone doesn’t mean that mobile contactless payments or intelligent information serving isn’t possible on an iPhone. Meet the Sydney developers set to reshape how you use your iPhone at pubs, bars, museums, shopping centres and a bunch of other places.

Proxima is a joint venture between Sydney developers Dan Nolan and Seb Pedavoli. Using iBeacons and Multi-Peer pairing technology (similar to that used in the new AirDrop Mobile feature) in the iPhone to change the way location-based information is served, they have created two apps: Experience and Wallet.

We caught up with Dan from Proxima and got him to explain to us how it all works.

Gizmodo: What have you been working on?

Dan: We have been working on a new product called Proxima.

Proxima is all about creating location based rich user experiences. Engaging people with content that is relevant to where they are and what they’re doing in that specific moment and utilising their micro-location to significantly enhance and add value to the their experience.

How does it work?

It’s based on iBeacons, a technology Apple rolled out with iOS 7. iBeacons are low energy Bluetooth beacons that broadcast a signal that iOS devices can pick up and respond to.

iBeacons give us the ability to build awesome experiences indoors because we’re able to use it as a very low energy substitute for GPS. Even outdoor events and locations benefit because the GPS isn’t constantly being used, draining a user’s battery. Detecting and using iBeacons to trigger events in apps basically has no power cost, which is seriously cool.

Experience from Proxima lets you define interactions that happen around iBeacons so you can create immersive and engaging experiences for your customers and users.

What makes it different from something like NFC or an app just to guide you through a museum, for example?

Two things, the first is the flexibility of the system and the second is the benefits offered by using iBeacons and the whole Bluetooth Low Energy stack.

One of the dirty secrets of NFC is that it’s seriously power hungry. A vendor we were speaking to was using NFC for management at an event to offer extended information but the devices they rolled out died after a few hours. That’s always been the achilles heel of NFC, the serious power required to use it and I think that’s the main reason Apple has continually opted to not integrate it into its products.

Where it differs from just an app to guide you through the museum is it gives museums the ability to take proximity data and create engaging experiences in a non-linear fashion. When you normally have an audio or video guide they direct you through the museum or location following a certain path. Proxima’s system lets museums build these really interactive and impressive systems for walking through a museum but they give the power back to the user to choose their own journey through the exhibits.

The other thing is that Proxima isn’t just about showing content when you’re close to something, that’s just one of the features possible. Imagine walking through a Museum that has an exhibit composed of multiple sections and different content and features playing on the walls, or different sections lighting up as you walk through the exhibit. We’ve just scratched the surface of what’s possible with this technology and we’re really looking forward to working with partners as we roll it out to see what they can imagine and what we can make a reality.

Once it’s finished, how can people use it?

We’re currently working with a few key partners as we build out and develop the whole technology stack. We’ll have more information about those partners as we start to roll out the tech.

For Experience you’ll be able to use it by downloading the app or using devices with apps preloaded that partners provide to you. When it comes to Wallet, you’ll be able to download Wallet to your device, set up an account and use it for payment at any of our partner locations. Our goal is to make proximity payment secure, seamless and fun.

We really want to roll out Proxima en masse (I mean who doesn’t want to build something that isn’t successful?), so everyday you’ll be using it to make payments and interact with the favourite places around your city.

How long did it take you to build it?

The concept was something we’ve been playing around with for a while.

Location-based technology has always been something that’s fascinated us and we’ve always wanted to do something new and interesting with it. We first started tinkering with iBeacons just after the WWDC keynote and spent a good chunk of time talking to Apple’s Engineers at the conference. Once back in Australia we started playing around with the technology and developed two products, Experience and Wallet.

There’s obviously a lot more development and product polishing that needs to be done but we’ve been building and rolling out the products in ‘stealth mode’, working with a few key vendors to make sure we can get the experience absolutely perfect before we roll it out to the general public. We’re giving alpha access to our SDK and API out to larger partners and vendors at the moment but we’re looking to make the SDK, API and platform available to customers in Q1 2014.

Who built it?

Proxima is a joint venture between Seb Pedavoli and Dan Nolan. We’ve worked together on a few other concepts and products in the past. When the opportunity presented itself around this technology, they started building. Both initially attracted by simply how cool the technology stack was and the potential for building a great experiences. We both have a great deal of experience in building software for large enterprises with a strong focus on user experience and design. Dan’s been focused particularly on the mobile space, notably consulting on mobile engineering projects and developing iOS apps for some of Australia’s biggest brands. Seb’s been focused on web applications, user engagement and taking businesses to market in the digital space.

What else can the technology Proxima is based on be used for, either in your app or others out there?

It sounds cheesy, but honestly, we’re only limited by our imaginations, and the imaginations of our partners. A transport organisation could create an app that lets passengers approach a turnstile and instantly be allowed through based on their account. Local cafes could show customers a menu with daily specials as they approach, let them check to see if there is a table available and pay for their meal once they’re done. A music festival could give punters detailed information about the band they’re watching and a set list that changes in real time while showing them their location on a map and how to get to stage they’re after.

We also see an incredible opportunity for marketers to activate promotions for their clients. Proxima can turn in store promotions into deeply engaging experiences with rich content, rather than a plain old shelf talker that shows a prize and presents a URL for customers.

There really are endless opportunities to provide people with meaningful, targeted content based on their location. We see Proxima improving location based experience for anyone and everyone.

Will this work on other platforms like Android/WP8?

At the moment we’re targeting iOS as iBeacons are an iOS only tech. There are already open source libraries that appear to support the tech on Android and it’s definitely something we’ll look at down the track but at the moment fragmentation is something we don’t want to deal with, and Bluetooth LE support was only added in version 4.3 of Android which is on only a few percent of devices. At this time the cost/benefit for developing for that small section of Android devices that can take advantage of the technology (I understand Samsung has shipped 4.0 support in some latest devices but the APIs are not exactly well documented). We also know that the vast majority of iOS devices out there have the required hardware to support this technology (Bluetooth 4.0 with LE support), which simply isn’t the case for the current array of Android devices in use.

For the 1.0 release we’re not going to be looking into a non-bluetooth fallback but if there is enough interest in the product then we’ll definitely look into expanding the rollout and giving Android users the opportunity to get on board. For WP8 there’s simply not a big enough market anywhere in the world to justify the development at this stage. Maybe Microsoft acquiring Nokia will change that but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

When ordinary people like us be able to use this app?

Very soon! We are currently working with several partners to roll out experiences in retail outlets, cafés, galleries, education and a few others launch partners we’re working closely with. The time taken to build out the products and get the tech sorted isn’t insubstantial but the feedback we’ve been getting from our launch partners has been invaluable in defining and figuring out what experiences they want to provide to their customers.

We’re really looking forward to speaking to more people from all kinds of industries and backgrounds to hear what they imagine could be possible with all of these awesome technologies. If you’re interested in speaking to us about a particular experience setup you can check us out at www.proxima.io. If you want to hear more about when we make the service available to developers and the general public you can sign up to our newsletter at www.proxima.io. Australia’s an awesome place to get a new piece of technology off the ground and we’re looking forward to having a few location experiences rolled out with partners before the end of the year, watch this space!

Developers Cubed is a section where we profile Aussie developers and the cool things they’re building. Want to be featured? Email us!

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