Skip to Content

Startup Lets Offices Know Who Just Walked In

A Boston-based startup is helping companies track their employees around the office using wireless sensor beacons, to improve collaboration.

In the office of the future, you may not so much walk into a room as log into it automatically. That’s what Sam Dunn, the CEO and co-founder of Boston-based startup Robin, thinks. The company is using wireless sensors to make rooms in office buildings aware of the people in them and let employees know exactly where their co-workers are.

smartphone
Office mates: A device containing an iBeacon and the Robin smartphone app.

With Robin’s software, when employees walk into a room, their smartphones alert a wireless transmitter using Bluetooth LE. They can then share certain predefined information with colleagues, which might be different for, say, a conference room than for a kitchen. When someone walks into a meeting, for instance, everyone else at the table could automatically have access to the person’s name, Twitter handle, LinkedIn profile, and perhaps a shared presentation on Dropbox. The system currently works with iBeacons, wireless network sensors developed by Apple to alert iOS devices when they’re in particular locations, and a few other Bluetooth LE devices.

So far, the Robin system has been implemented in a limited number of pilot locations. News Corp, the newspaper and publishing company, uses it on its executive floor in New York for room and desk booking; a handful of co-working spaces around the country use it to keep track of general room use and availability.

Robin isn’t the only group experimenting with beacons. Burcin Becerik-Gerber, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Southern California, has done similar work in her lab, although her primary interests have been in tracking firefighters and victims in burning buildings, and in improving energy efficiency in office buildings by identifying empty rooms (see “Innovators Under 35: Burcin Becerik-Gerber”).

Becerik-Gerber observes that there’s an obvious privacy issue with tracking people, but that people already volunteer so much information about themselves they might be okay with it.

The team at Robin recognizes the privacy issue, but Dunn doesn’t think it’s going to be a major problem. He compares having a Robin persona and entering an office building to having a Facebook profile and joining a Facebook group.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.