A Conversation with Estimote’s Mark Modzelewski



As one of the premiere beacon manufacturers in the world, Estimote is on the cutting edge of providing contextually rich mobile experiences that connect the real world to your smart phone. Estimote’s Chief of Staff, F. Mark Modzelewski answers some of my burning questions in relation to my previous research on the relationship between the arts and beacon technology. As both an artist and technology professional, Modzelewski provides unique insight into beacon technology and its applications to the arts and culture industry.

Kate Martin: You have worked at Estimote since 2013. How have you seen the company change and grow to where it is now?

Mark Modzelewski: When I first started advising the company it was just two guys and a dream, so to see it as a Y Combinator graduate, backed by leading Silicon Valley venture capitalists, shipping product, offices in Krakow, New York, and San Francisco and really dominating the beacon industry is a dream come true. It’s been incredibly gratifying to see great people –the founders Jakub and Lukasz—do well.


KM:  To your knowledge, are your beacons currently used at arts organizations? If so, for what are they being used?

MM: Beacons are basically little lighthouses that know exactly where they are and can push information out to people. With this in mind they are being used in arts organizations in two ways. One is to change the experience of visitors at a museum, gallery, concert hall or whatever the facility is. So visitor experience. And the other is that it is being used by artists to actually transform viewer participation and engage them into the work or even make them part of the work.

So as far as the visitor experience goes, museums have been amazing proving grounds for beacons. They're taking different approaches: some just push additional content to visitors, other create personalized audio guides, enable better communication between patrons and staff, or even build on-site games. The museums using our beacons include Guggenheim, Brooklyn Museum, Canadian Museum of Nature, Smithsonian, Antwerp Museum, and more.

[Modzelewski has written extensively on this subject. This article includes some exciting applications of Beacon technology in venues and museums across the world.]


KM: As an artist yourself, what advice would you give to arts organizations that are thinking of using beacon technology?

MM: Oddly enough my practice deals with the death of old technology and industries. That said, we have just scratched the surface of what beacons can do.  Our goal is to basically create an operating system for the physical world that utilizes beacon and related technologies.  What they will be able to do to add context to all that surrounds us will be truly amazing.  Right now—keeping with a blog post we did last year—I’d say the first principle of contextual computing is: don't be boring. Don't go for the most common solutions, the things that everyone else is doing. There's so much more that can be done that just delivering additional content about art exhibits. Contextual computing is ripe for experimentation, and who's better suited for these experiments than artists and art institutions? Interactive storytelling, personalized tours, digital performance: all that can be done and we'd love to help make it happen.


KM: What implementation techniques would you suggest for new beacon users?

MM: We have a ton of resources for new developers available on our website and in the Estimote Cloud platform. Shortening the learning curve and making sure prototyping is fast and easy, that's one of our top priorities. We have posted tutorials, ready-made App Templates, and a comprehensive Knowledge Base, so everyone can learn and quickly turn the new skills into working apps. There's also almost 100 case studies that serve as an inspiration for the newcomers in our developer community.


KM: With the launch of your new beacons at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, you now have the most robust location beacons on the market. How will this transform the arts industry?

MM: The Location Beacons we've launched in Barcelona are a step forward in nearly every aspect of proximity technology. They have superior battery life, they run much more sophisticated firmware, they come with more sensors built-in, and so on. We're excited to see how artists will put all the new features in action. What will probably be most handy for them is the ability to connect beacons with other devices and the additional physical world data the Location Beacons broadcast thanks to sensors.

We actually have a game-changing device that we will be introducing in a few months that I believe artists and arts organizations will love. I wish I could say more.


KM: Where do you anticipate beacon technology heading in the future?

MM: In the future beacons and other objects broadcasting data about their location and environment will be ubiquitous – literally the whole world will be “beaconized,” or at least joined by a BLE network. But you will not notice them at all, just like today you do not notice electricity being everywhere around you: It just blended into the environment so well you take it for granted. Devices, from phones and watches to PCs and displays, will be able to interact with the world around them. The goal is to make that interaction completely seamless. It has to feel like magic.