Chrome on Android to get physical with new IoT beacon support

Google will soon roll out support in Chrome on Android for its Internet-of-Things discovery project.

Chrome-on-Android users will soon be able to take advantage of the Physical Web.

Image: Nicole Cozma/CNET

Google's next version of Chrome will allow developers to send notifications and URLs from Bluetooth beacon-equipped objects to smartphones.

The new feature supports the Physical Web, a project that envisages every object, from movie posters to parking meters, as being capable of broadcasting a URL that direct smartphones to a relevant web page or app.

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Google researcher Scott Jenson launched the Physical Web last year to help objects become more discoverable. The project uses Google's Eddystone-URL Bluetooth beacon format to find nearby URLs without requiring any centralized registrar.

Google's Chrome on iOS supported the project last year, and the support now will be expanded to Android users in Chrome 49, which is currently in beta.

"Now that the Physical Web is tightly integrated into Chrome for Android, a single deployment can deliver contextual information to Chrome users across multiple mobile platforms," said Ani Mohan, a 'Physical Web Voyager'.

Once the browser is released, the next time an Android device passes a Physical Web beacon, the user will receive a notification allowing them to enable the Physical Web. From then on users will see a list of nearby URLs by "tapping on a non-vibrating notification waiting for them", according to Google.

That behaviour could open the door for marketers to beam unwanted messages to passersby -- but as Google also highlights, the beacons can be a useful navigation tool, as demonstrated by Radius Networks at CES, where it set up 1,500 beacons to help guide visitors.

Mozilla is also working on extending the capabilities of the Physical Web-connected to do more complicated tasks like controlling a drone.

To help kickstart the young project, Google has invited university researchers to join its IoT Technology Research Award Pilot. The company will offer awards to projects based on Google's beacon and other IoT technologies, such as Google Cloud Platform, its OnHub routers, and Chrome Boxes. Proposals are due by February 29 and recipients will be notified by the end of March.

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