Court Technology Bulletin

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Apple's ‘iBeacon” Technology Potential for Courts


Last June at an Apple developer’s conference a new technology, "iBeacon" was quietly announced.


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As part of the iOS 7 mobile operating system Apple has included a new technology known as “iBeacon” “that extends Location Services in iOS” indoors using existing Bluetooth capabilities in iPhone 4s or later, iPad 3rd generation or later, iPad mini or later, and iPod touch 5th generation or later according to their website.

Mr. Brent Hieggelke in his “re/code” blog notes:
“Few technologies have so quickly captured businesses’ imaginations as iBeacon has. In just a few months, it has gone from an unaddressed bullet in Apple’s WWDC keynote to garnering wide industry support this fall as an available technology in iOS 7. Now, a handful of months later, iBeacon is playing in the big leagues.”
He further notes:
“iBeacon essentially takes over where GPS leaves off, offering a cost-effective, battery-efficient means of indoor location tracking that can trigger apps to serve compelling digital content based on a user’s location and proximity to points of interest. It’s a game changer for businesses seeking to meld indoor environments with digital experiences, and to get closer to the marketing nirvana of sending the right message to the right people at the right time and place.”
He is certainly enthusiastic isn’t he?  Now I’m not sure if it will be a “marketing nirvana” but I can project several uses in the courts.

First, attorney locating.  We all know delays are common because of courthouse scheduling conflicts or, when a prior courtroom event finishes early and the judge asks “where are the parties and attorneys for the next matter”?  Many times a bailiff or clerk is dispatched to find the missing attorney.  With iBeacon technology the courtroom staff would be able to immediately see if the attorney is in the courthouse and either message or directly send someone to retrieve them instead of a random search.

Second, Bailiffs/Deputy locating.  Back in 2009 we posted an article here in the CTB regarding the potential use of iPods touch and similar devices (smart phones) for Bailiffs.  As noted above, iBeacon is available on iPod touch devices.  Again iBeacon would allow the judge or courtroom staff to locate the Bailiff/Deputy who may be with detained persons.  This in turn would allow the judge to send a message, decide to hear something else, or make alternative plans for hearing matters.  Further, iBeacon could possibly help with courtroom security by automatically locating and calling the closest Bailiff’s/Deputies to the courtroom if there is a problem that they could address.

Third, courthouse navigation.  It would be great to be able to provide an automatic guide to assist the public in what is called “wayfaring” though a courthouse facility.  Courthouses can be big scary places.  Any help to persons attending court would help to put the court in a positive light. In addition once the guide in engaged, the system could potentially send the data to the courtroom if the person is about to be late.  We all know the stress of being caught in an elevator stopping floor after floor.  It would be nice if the judge waiting would know that we are coming… just not quickly.

Finally, another article notes that iBeacon is competing with another technology known as NFC or “near field communication”.  It discusses whether iBeacon is a “NFC killer” and notes the potential for contactless payment which again would be a very handy technology for courts as in: “thank you for your guilty plea… your payment will be made automatically via your iBeacon app that you approved when scheduling your hearing”.

Our imagination is the only limit here.

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