Beacons are computer-mouse-sized devices (e.g. here) that can be placed in physical shops. These Internet-Of-Things gizmos allow advertising alerts (see here) to be sent via sites such as Google to mobile phone users who are physically close to the shop.From the retail business perspective, beacon technology allows each shop to show up on personal maps or saved places as well as helping gather photos and reviews from those who have visited along with content such as peak busy times.The physical beacons send local bluetooth signals to customers’ phones. One way codes are used by the beacons with each being specific to a particular shop or destination. Provided the location services on your mobile are switched on the mobile will use the beacon signal to tie itself to the venue. The beacon itself doesn’t gather or store information. Rather, it just provides a mechanism to engage with the customer/visitor only while they are ‘engaged’ with the beacon.The combination of physical beacons with local bluetooth communication allows the beacon system to accurately determine a user’s location. This accurate location information can be used in, for example, within a supermarket. If you have used a local grocery supermarket application to create your shopping list then the mobile phone can be used to direct you to particular products or special deals that might be of interest. Beacons can deliver content to a mobile device based on user analytics, proximity marketing, indoor navigation, contactless payments, etc.Companies such as IKEA are already using beacons to show floorplan maps and help guide customers to specific items of interest. Other areas where beacon technology is likely to start appearing over the next year or two will be in museums where visitors can tie in their location in front of a particular painting with, for example, a wikipedia page about the artist. Early adopters of this approach include the Eindhoven Philips Museum in The Netherlands, the National Slate Museum in Wales and the Brooklyn Museum in New York.Google is now piloting a beacon programme with a few well-known high-street brands in the UK and the US. The programme is currently free and Google are keen to get as many high-street retailers as possible making use of the system.Google has announced that it’s rolling out further trials of beacon technology. Any organisation or business that is interested in participating will first need a physical device. To get this, you will need to start the process by filling out the form here.Once you have received a beacon from Google, the second step is to set it up using the instructions provided here.