Is the gym full? Startup thinks beacons can improve apartment living

Clients work out on machines at the Bally Total Fitness facility in Arvada, Colorado June 15, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Files

Location-tracking technology in apartment buildings could be the answer to avoiding lines at the gym or knowing when it's a good time to head to the laundry room. 

Chicago-based Mobile Doorman, which makes white-label apps for apartment and condominium buildings, is rolling out beacon integration that it thinks will help residents live smarter and property owners manage better. 

"Our mission is for you to feel like this app on your phone represents your apartment building," said co-founder Bob Matteson. 

Mobile Doorman offers customisable apps that allow residents to manage deliveries, place maintenance requests and pay rent, among other things. The company charges properties US$1 (RM4) a month per unit and counts 4,600 active units in 10 properties across the country, Matteson said. 

The beacon offering will be included in the monthly fee, Matteson said, with property managers paying for the hardware. Those who choose to place the Bluetooth-based beacon devices in fitness centers will be able to track how many people are there in real-time and eventually offer residents data about when the gym is busiest. 

Another benefit, Matteson said, is for property managers to have a better understanding of how residents use a building's common areas. 

"The more they can understand what's being used, the smarter they can be about how they're investing money into the property to improve it," Matteson said.

Mobile Doorman offers customizable apps that allow apartment and condo residents to manage deliveries, place maintenance requests and pay rent. (Photo courtesy App Store/TNS)
Mobile Doorman offers customisable apps that allow apartment and condo residents to manage deliveries, place maintenance requests and pay rent. — App Store/TNS

He gave one example of one owner who invested heavily in a property, only to find one of the most popular improvements – the addition of a few high-end exercise bikes – was the cheapest. With Mobile Doorman's data, managers can better learn how residents use the gym, he said. 

The success of the beacon feature will depend on how many residents in a building download the app, which is free to them. Mobile Doorman can only count people who have the app downloaded and Bluetooth turned on when they're in range of a beacon. 

Matteson said the beacons will only be installed in common, public areas – not private units. The app can, however, use the beacons to track tenants individually as they visit those public facilities. Property managers will be able to access that information and could use it to ask specific residents for feedback. 

Mobile Doorman will use iBeacon-compatible locator devices – that is, beacons that are compatible with Apple software baked into Mobile Doorman's app. 

Those iBeacon devices can cost as little as US$5 (RM20), said Kevin McQuown, co-founder of Windy City Lab, an Internet of Things development firm. McQuown and co-founder Dave Krawczyk sit on Mobile Doorman's advisory board and are helping the company build beacon connectivity into its apps. 

Krawcyzk said property managers could use them widely, such as placing one on each treadmill in their fitness centers to see which one is used most. Then they would know which machines might need tuneups soonest. 

Matteson said that sort of finding is exactly what he wants to deliver to property managers. But to achieve that, he has to make the apps worthy of precious space on residents' smartphones. 

"The No. 1 thing we really are excited about is, this is another way to put relevant information in the apps the resident would be interested in," Matteson said. 

Mobile Doorman has raised US$835,000 (RM3.27mil) in seed funding, including US$750,000 (RM2.94mil) from Chicago's KGC Capital, led by William Blair executive and tech investor Dick Kiphart, and others. — Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

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