Our email addresses, Teams accounts and phone numbers do not change when we move around. Yet our relevance to events moves with us.
What if tomorrow’s communication networks systematically (but while respecting our privacy) took our location into account to improve the distribution of information? Generally speaking, there are three main types of communication: The first, and oldest, is interpersonal communication. It’s based on a distinct set of contacts. SMS, email, and instant messaging (WhatsApp, Viber, etc.) have become key communication channels since the advent of digital technologies, and collaborative communication applications (Teams, Zoom) have followed suit for the professional world. The second type of communication is context-based communication. This is based not necessarily on who we are, but on our various interests. Most social networks fall into this category. Finally, there’s a third type: location-based communication, where information is relayed to us not because of who we are but because of where we are. However, this category still predominantly relies on legacy methods (such as SMS-based mass notifications, Public Address systems, digital signage, or even paper signs on walls) and has not kept pace with modern technological advancements.
Surprising as it may seem, there hasn’t been a revolution in location-based communication for a very long time.
American startup Balcony.io has developed an innovative solution for precisely this vast field.
Under-Use Of Location-Based Communication
Current Mass notification solutions suffer from two weaknesses: they’re unidirectional and, above all, not personalized. However, it can make sense to obtain and/or disseminate specific information on a large scale. This is the case with geolocalized information, which is addressed to all those who are in a particular location, such as a train station, a stadium, a museum, or even a city. “Surprising as it may seem, there hasn’t been a revolution in location-based communication for a very long time — not since the introduction of Waze for traffic purposes,” explains David Hammel, founder and CEO of Balcony. “So, until now there has been no modern technology that allows organizations to communicate with their people based on where they are anywhere in the world.”
The solution developed by Balcony is a geo-localized multi-media messaging platform. It enables managers and people in positions of responsibility to use geo-specific engagement channels and directly message those reporting to them who are on the ground with alerts, instructions, messages or requests for information. Users can respond with real-time location-specific insights, ground-truthing a situation. The platform also offers the possibility of generating data through various methods, such as surveys, questionnaires or opinion polls. “Let’s imagine I’m in charge of an airport. My main means of mass communication is a loudspeaker, just as it was a century ago. This is a form of synchronous communication. It’s not always very audible, and people aren’t necessarily paying attention because they’re running to avoid missing their flight… With Balcony, if I need to communicate with staff or passengers in a specific part of the terminal, alert them, give them instructions, and so on, I simply point at the map and message them through a mobile app. I can guide them to action or to safety with an AR pointer. This is asynchronous communication, allowing me to handle multiple conversations in parallel without the need for a call center or 1:1 call takers.”
A Situational Network
The solution proposed, which David Hammel describes as a “ ,” could support the development of the Internet of Things (IoT). Balcony is exhibiting at Viva Technology 2023 with Orange. “We know that in smart cities, and even further afield through the global concept of smart nations, geolocation will play a major role in large-scale communication and data management,” says Soumik Sinharoy, Senior Product Manager at Orange Silicon Valley. “What we don’t realize enough today is that we have a huge amount of data at our disposal that we’re not using. It’s our role, as a digital operator, to optimize the use of this data, and make it actionable, not only to improve the user experience, but also to make life safer in the city of the future.”
Orange Silicon Valley is collaborating with Balcony and ecosystem partners to integrate a universal API called Smart-X, which will allow any smart sensor to communicate time-sensitive, high-value intelligence to the start-up’s backend geo-communication cloud. This will allow platform operators to instantly communicate with the personnel in the specific location, providing a rapid response to high-value events/alerts.
Association with Dryad
Emergency situations are one of the main development focus areas for Balcony’s platform, and the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021 was a baptism of fire for it. During this chaotic and dangerous situation, communication and management methods for large-scale events were put to the test given the very dynamic and unpredictable nature of the reality on the ground. However, thanks to Balcony, several hundred people, including a group of 150 female students were kept safe, moving around for several days before being safely evacuated. Balcony has also teamed up with Dryad, a startup specializing in forest fire detection, to develop a new solution capable of spotting wildfire risks as quickly as possible. Force multiplying Dryad’s IoT sensor, Balcony makes it instantly actionable, enabling the response to the fire to be orchestrated efficiently. This innovation will become more and more relevant with the ever-increasing exposure of forest areas to the consequences of global warming.