By Channa Steinmetz, Startland News, May 19, 2023
This spring’s NFL Draft served as a beta test for Kansas City’s implementation of Jonathan Ruiz’s bluetooth technology, he said, noting that the tech and data could help better prepare the city for the World Cup in 2026.
“We wanted to start collecting this data for our partners in Kansas City’s Downtown and City Market, so they could be better aware of what’s happening, the impact the Draft had and how we can plan for the future,” said Ruiz, the co-founder and CEO of Electronic Beacon (EB) Systems.
EB Systems — a 2022 LaunchKC winner that Ruiz co-founded with Brendan Waters — uses mobile apps, proximity-based sensors and wearable Bluetooth devices to create real-time location, reporting and alerting systems. During the NFL Draft, the startup installed beacon readers in various locations throughout the city to passively scan for Bluetooth devices within the area.
“It’s completely private and anonymous. Our goal is not to collect and sell data; what we are trying to accomplish is effective communication to empower the city,” he explained. “… We installed the beacons a week before the Draft, during the Draft and then the week after so that we could get some baseline comparisons.”
EB Systems’ technology has been used in other cities, such as Dallas, to gather data for economic development. With Kansas City becoming a large event destination, it is crucial to be proactive in discovering ways to make the city more tourist friendly, Ruiz said.
Click here to see how EB Systems deployed its technology for crowd counting at the 2020 Chiefs Super Bowl parade.
Power in proximity
Along with tracking activity around the city, EB Systems tested proximity-based messaging. The same beacons that track the volume of Bluetooth devices in the area could be utilized to send out contextual, proximity-based alerts.
“Our vision is that we can deploy this very elaborate and very granular messaging system and integrate it into either a tourism app or FIFA app [for the World Cup]. It only works if the individual has downloaded the app and opted into receiving messages,” explained Ruiz, who also is a member of the 2023 Pipeline fellowship. “One of the few negative things we saw about the Draft was that local businesses weren’t able to connect to out-of-town tourists. This technology could be used to reach those people.”
But there are downfalls with apps, Ruiz acknowledged. A handful of people do not trust apps and others will not look at an app unless absolutely necessary, such as using the NFL Draft app to initially get into the Draft but not using it any further.
To avoid these pitfalls, Ruiz has proposed a recyclable device that would allow visitors to receive proximity-based messages without having to download an app. EB Systems can integrate its sensor messaging network to an individuals’ preferred messaging platform (iMessage, WhatsApp, WeChat, etc). With the device/badge, an individual would only provide their phone number and preferred messaging platform, and then be granted access to an AI tour guide.
“Instead of it being a pre-canned messaging and marketing app, we want people to feel like they’re getting travel tips from a Kansas City local,” Ruiz shared. “So instead of just spamming people with push notifications, it can be contextual. It could see that someone is in the City Market and they messaged [the AI] that they wanted coffee. It could say, ‘You can check out Fresh Roasted Coffee at City Market, or if you want something off the beaten path, check out Cafe Cà Phê for Vietnamese coffee or Café Córazon for Hispanic coffee.’”
Whether Kansas City decided to utilize the app or the wearable device, EB Systems could build more engaging activities on top of it such as scavenger hunts or rewards throughout the city, Ruiz noted.
Succeeding as an international host
EB Systems has partnered with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City to help make Kansas City a more welcoming and international host city for major events.
“I went to the Draft on Saturday, and I didn’t notice any signage in Spanish or any other language aside from English,” Ruiz noted. “A more inclusive experience is what we are trying to accomplish with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Ideally, that would look like a digital option for people to start receiving some of these messages and information in their chosen language.”
With the World Cup expected to bring a diverse crowd from around the globe, EB Systems’ technology is a solution to make sure communication is inclusive, Ruiz said.
“It may not be feasible to produce physical signs in Spanish, French, Swahili and so on, but we can give them the opportunity to download an app or carry around our AI tour guide wearable and give them this really personal experience,” Ruiz said.
As for access to EB Systems’ wearable device, Ruiz is currently looking for a sponsor that would purchase the devices and distribute them to visitors, he noted.
Better experience for locals
Connecting with Kansas City locals is just as important as connecting with visitors, Ruiz said.
“I would say the Draft itself was a huge success and a very well-run event, but it comes with growing pains,” Ruiz acknowledged. “I’ve been hearing feedback from business owners that not only was the connection with tourists not as strong as they hoped, but connection to locals lacked as well.”
These sentiments were backed up by the data that EB Systems collected before, during and after the Draft.
“A lot of locals avoided going Downtown or to the Draft because they thought it was going to be too crazy and there wasn’t going to be anywhere to park when, in reality, it was such a well-run event that it was pretty easy to navigate the footprint in and around Downtown,” Ruiz said. “We saw a spike in activity the weekend after the Draft because many people were likely going out to support their favorite business that they may have avoided during the Draft.
For future events, EB Systems technology could connect to a platform or website that would allow locals to get live-time updates on the traffic of a specific area, Ruiz continued.
As EB Systems is coming up on 10 years since its founding, Ruiz shared his excitement on how his technology can be utilized to empower and shine a light on his hometown.
“We’re really a hometown, innovation-minded company,” Ruiz said. “We see all the ways it can be applied, so why not try and apply it to the World Cup to reinforce to people that Kansas City is a great place to visit and live? This technology was not made to encroach on someone’s privacy, but rather give them an enhanced and personalized experience.”