Location Poised to go Universal in 2015

This article was written as part of a series of articles on LinkedIn, on Big Ideas for 2015. You're invited to share and comment either on LinkedIn or here.
We've gotten so used to GPS on our smartphones - to being able to find any location and how to get there, to having real-time traffic reports and directions, to having pictures geotagged, and more - that we take it for granted. The location transformation feels complete. But GPS does not work indoors, and tends to drain smartphone batteries.
I think the biggest change in 2015 #BigIdeas2015 is that the location transformation will be universal. Location will work everywhere. Most importantly, once it works everywhere, it can work for us, instead of our having to work for it.
This is the key thing about location. When it only works outside, and when it takes a lot of battery and CPU, it's not really always available. It's available when we ask for it, when we run an app or invoke a phone feature that uses it. But it's not yet always there.
Imagine, though, if your phone knew where you were every second of the day, without killing your CPU or battery. Then you could be reminded as you approach a particular store in the mall that you want to buy something there, or can be told as you walk through a museum that a good friend of yours is one room over. Your phone can switch to vibrate when you enter a meeting room or theater, tag your Facebook posts with the name of the coffee shop your sitting in and not the one down the hall, remember where you parked in the underground parking lot, remind you to pick up some pages as you walk by the printer, remind you to call your wife as you leave the office, and much more. 
In short, until now location was about maps. In 2015 it will be about apps.
And after 2015 makes location universal on our phones, 2016 will make location universal in our other things as well. Not only will our phones know where we are, so will our door locks and vacuum cleaners, so will our TVs and entertainment systems, so will our lights and air conditioners, and so will hundreds of other things around our homes, offices and public areas. And our phones will know where our keychains, wallets, and other losable things are. Yes, it's a bit big brother-ish. Or a lot. So maybe it won't happen in public spaces. But in our homes, having our air conditioners and lights know where we are, and having our phones know where our keychains and wallets are, is just over the horizon.
There are hundreds of companies developing the technologies that will make location universal. And there are many different technologies that need to come together to make it happen. They're on the way.
A new technology called SLAM is working to enable location to work anywhere, without preparing a site or installing infrastructure. A radio technology called UWB is moving precise location into things all around us. Several new technologies are giving indoor location systems higher accuracy than ever before. And chip companies are adding indoor location tracking to chips in our phones, reducing CPU load and battery drain. And others are working on innovative ways to make indoor location universal.
At the dawn of 2015, we're standing on the cusp of the indoor location transformation, where location goes universal. Is there any mobile app or service, any day-to-day activities that we do on our phones or computers, or any routine activity that we do around our homes, offices, shopping centers or stores, that will not be effected?

PLACE Conference London and Qualcomm's LED-Based Location Technology

It was great attending and presenting at the PLACE London conference last week on November 17. Many technology vendors in the indoor location space, mostly start-ups but larger companies as well, were in attendance, and many large retail companies were there as well. It was the perfect audience to discuss indoor location technology and its impact on retail.

My panel on sensor technologies included representatives from CSR (recently acquired by Qualcomm), Meridian (a subsidiary of Aruba networks) and Pole Star, all companies bringing indoor location technology to market. Other companies presenting at the conference included IndoorAtlas, Qualcomm, Aisle411, LocalSocial, RetailNext, ShopperTrak and Indoorz. Big thanks go to the team from Opus Research for a great job in organizing the conference.

Of course, these dozen companies are only a few of the more than 100 companies in the indoor location area. But it was a great cross-sample of the market.

Several companies were talking about their SLAM-related technology, which enables indoor location technology to work in a new site without extensive customization. Grizzly Analytics has identified SLAM technology as one of the big new technologies that's poised to revolutionize indoor location systems.

One of the surprises, for me, was seeing a demo of a great technology from Qualcomm Technologies (QTI), which does indoor location positioning based on special LED lights. In their system, the LED lights use modulation to send signals that identify each light bulb and its location. Phones that sense the light, using their cameras, can combine (multilaterate) the signals from multiple nearby lights to determine where they are.

We've written before about indoor location systems based on modulated light. A start-up called ByteLight is bringing related technology to market, and a start-up called i2Cat is doing similar things using a phone's ambient light sensor. And others are working on lighting with built in wireless technology, that can also do location positioning. But Qualcomm has a great looking product, with fast and precise positioning, succeeding particularly well at combining the signals from multiple lights to get a very precise location fix. And Qualcomm has the corporate muscle to bring it to market.

Qualcomm reports that their system can track a phone's location to within 10cm in 3D. This puts Qualcomm's technology in an elite group of systems that delivers sub-meter indoor location accuracy, as well as being one of only a few technologies that is accurate in the 3rd dimension (height) as well.

Of course, the infrastructure cost of installing custom lighting is higher than that of BLE beacons. And using the phone's camera to track location will use more battery than many other approaches. But Qualcomm says they're solving the battery problem by intelligently turning their tracking system off and on. They are currently bringing this technology to market in partnership with Accuity Brands lighting, who already delivers lighting to many large retailers. For sites wanting high accuracy that works on a wide variety of smartphones, Accuity's product based on Qualcomm's technology is a very strong contender.

Of course, Qualcomm's technology was only one of a dozen discussed at the PLACE Conference, and each technology has its benefits and tradeoffs. If you're interested in staying on top of indoor location, you should definitely attend a future PLACE Conference. And see the Grizzly Analytics reports on sub-meter accuracy indoor location and on self-learning SLAM technologies to learn about more cutting edge technologies.

Indoor Location's Upcoming SLAM Dunk

The beauty of GPS is that it works everywhere. With a GPS-enabled phone, applications ranging from navigation to picture geotagging, from nearby restaurant search to social network check-ins, can all work everywhere. That is, everywhere outside. Once we go inside, our phones simply remember where we were last observed.

There are over 170 companies developing technologies for indoor location positioning, enabling phones to track their locations inside malls, stores, offices, hospitals, airports and more. Not a week goes by without announcements being released of new deployments of indoor location technology. But virtually all the indoor location systems on the market have to be deployed and customized one site at a time. And deploying and customizing these systems takes a lot of time and effort.

A new technology brings the promise of changing all that, of enabling indoor location systems to work everywhere, or enabling them to be deployed in new much much more easily. SLAM stands for "simultaneous localization and mapping," basically a self-learning approach whereby a system learns about a site automatically while walking around it, and does its best to estimate locations from the start. SLAM has been around in the aeronautical and robot communities for years, and is now being implemented for mobile.

According to a new report from Grizzly Analytics, there are at least eleven companies working on bringing SLAM to market, ranging from the biggest mobile and technology vendors to the smallest start-up companies. The best known of these companies is Apple, who has been known to be working on SLAM for a while, based on their acquisition of start-up WiFiSLAM, but there are many more as well. Interestingly, Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) is developing strong SLAM technology, both in software and for integration into their chips. CSR was recently acquired by Qualcomm, makers of the IZAT chips that use radio signals for indoor location positioning. Adding CSR's SLAM to Qualcomm's radio-based positioning could mean that 2016's smartphones could do indoor location positioning anywhere, with millions of phones SLAMming their way through new sites.

To understand how SLAM works, consider the two most common indoor location technologies already on the market. The first is called fingerprinting. In fingerprinting, a phone or laptop is used to record the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals at hundreds of places throughout a site. The collection of signals at any place is called the "fingerprint" for that place, in that the exact collection of signals should be slightly different at every place. Generally speaking, signals should be stronger the closer the phone is to the source of the signal (the Wi-Fi access point or the Bluetooth beacon), but signals also vary based on what objects are interfering with the signal, walls that signals can bounce off of, and many more factors. Recording fingerprints in a database enables a system, in principle, to identify a location based on the set of signals observed.

There are, of course, a lot of complexities and challenges in implementing a fingerprinting system. But even the best and most sophisticated fingerprinting system requires that fingerprints be gathered every few meters around the site, which can take days for a large sized site.

Consider now another common technology for indoor location position, called sensor fusion. Sensor fusion basically uses sensors that are built into phones, such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses and barometers, to sense the phone's movement and to track the changes in its location by precisely measuring its movement. In other words, if the phone starts out knowing that its at point A, and then measures that it moved one meter south, it should be easy to calculate the new location.

Motion sensing of this sort, however, is notoriously inaccurate. First, the sensors built into today's smartphones are not top-of-the-line professional sensors, they're much smaller and designed for simpler tasks. Second, small amounts of error tend to build up very quickly. If the measured direction of movement is off by just one degree from the actual direction, the location estimate would be very inaccurate after just ten minutes of walking around.

Enter mobile SLAM. The most common approach to mobile SLAM is to combine sensor fusion with fingerprinting. This type of Mobile SLAM system uses sensor fusion to track its location at well as possible when moving around a new site. It also records radio signal fingerprints as it goes. By combining the data from ten or more walks through the site, it can automatically put together a map of the site and a set of fingerprints for locations throughout the site. These fingerprints can then be used for indoor location positioning.

Clearly, there is a lot more to it than this simple description. If sensor fusion is very inaccurate, how can a SLAM system know where the phone is when it's gathering fingerprint data? There are a lot of technology details that different systems used to make this SLAM process work effectively. Some systems assume that the phones will occasionally walk near windows or open areas of a site and receive sporadic GPS signals that will clarify the phone's location. Some systems detect when the phone is at the same place twice, by recognizing the fingerprints, and then review all the movement data collected between the two times at the same location to clarify the path based on the ending point. Some systems detect when two different phones running SLAM are near each other, to clarify the location estimates of both. These and many other innovative approaches are being used to make SLAM work.

Other systems are taking a very different approach to SLAM, using device cameras to implement what I call Visual SLAM. In visual SLAM, real-time images from the phone's camera are analyzed to detect the phone's movement much more accurately than can be done using the phone's other sensors. Also, in addition to collecting radio signal fingerprints, visual SLAM systems collect images around the site, which can also be compared to determine where the phones are, and can be used later for more accurate location positioning. Visual SLAM, however, is often more power-hungry, and cannot be used for a long time without running down a phone's battery.

Bottom line, mobile SLAM systems present a vision of the future, in which phones can do indoor location positioning anywhere. For sites that have not yet been learned, the phones would use SLAM to learn them. For sites that have been learned already, simple fingerprint matching can be used for location positioning. Suppose, for example, that mobile SLAM was running on all iPhones. With the huge number of iPhones otu there, how long would it take before all popular indoor sites had been fingerprinted and could support indoor location positioning? The same would be true if any popular smartphone brand or application was SLAM-enabled.

Some mobile SLAM systems have a more modest goal: enabling sites to deploy indoor location systems with a fraction of the setup time and effort. Instead of laboriously carrying out the manual fingerprinting process, which can take days for some big sites, the site owners simply need to walk around the site for a while carrying SLAM-enabled phones. The SLAM system would take care of all the fingerprinting, much more easily than using today's manual process.

Whether it comes to market in a universal manner or by making site-specific systems easier to deploy, SLAM has the power to revolutionize the indoor location market. Who will get the SLAM dunk first?

New report: Mobile SLAM Technology - Self-Learning Indoor Location Positioning

Mobile SLAM Technology:
Self-Learning Indoor Location Positioning
November 4, 2014
The indoor location positioning technology area is growing tremendously. Not a week goes by that we don’t hear of new products or solutions, new start-up companies or new acquisitions in the area. But the systems reaching market do not deliver indoor location positioning universally, without preparation for each site, and the preparation required for each site often takes a lot of time.

Technology in development, about to reach market, can solve both of these challenges. This new technology area is Mobile SLAM, or Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, a self-learning indoor location positioning technology. Mobile SLAM offers the promise of systems that can learn to do indoor location positioning anywhere, with no preparation for the site. It also offers to reduce considerably the preparation required for per-site indoor location systems. This report analyzes and explains Mobile SLAM Technology, the solutions under development, the innovations in research, how they differentiate from each other, and the implications of the technology.

You can learn more about Mobile SLAM Technology and Self-Learning Indoor Location Positioning, with report details and a link to buy it, here:
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Or contact Grizzly Analytics:

Grizzly Analytics LLC
Phone: +1-908-827-1580

The PLACE London 2014 Conference

Grizzly Analytics Chief Analyst Bruce Krulwich will be presenting and moderating a session at the 2014 PLACE London conference. The session is tentatively titled Sensor Technologies for 2015 and Beyond. The conference will be on November 17, 2014, in London.

Planning on attending? E-mail me at info at grizzlyanalytics dot com to schedule a time to say hi and talk. See you there!

Glopos: From Universal Location Positioning to High Accuracy Positioning

A common question people ask about indoor location positioning goes something like this: "Why do you need Wi-Fi, or BLE, or other technologies? Why can't it be done based on cellular signals?"

The common wisdom, of course, is that cellular signals have so broad a range, so big a coverage area, that they don't differentiate different locations sufficiently. Many mobile companies have implemented indoor positioning based on cellular signals, using multilateration algorithms on cellular signal strengths and antenna locations, and have ended up with 60 to 100 meter inaccuracies on average, often worse.

Glopos, based in Helsinki, didn't take "no" for an answer. Instead of relying on cellular signal strength values, Glopos's technology uses a wider variety of cellular signal parameters, models of cell area and shape, and data from other nearby cells, to build self-learning probabilistic models for estimating positions. Their latest tests have achieved 5-6 meter accuracy based on 3G signals alone. In that same test, the average accuracy of the best 80% of the location estimates was 2.4 meters. (See video below.) This accuracy isn't as good as some other companies have achieved, but it's based solely on cellular signals, while most other companies use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals.

The aspect of Glopos's approach that Grizzly Analytics likes the best is that it uses cellular signal parameters that are already being received and processed by every cellphone in the world, as the phones check for incoming calls and messages. So there's literally no additional radio signal processing used to achieve always-on, always-available, 24x7 location positioning, and virtually no additional battery or CPU usage. In principle their technology can run on non-smartphones as well. This universality can open up the door to a lot of new applications running in the background.

The aspect of Glopos's approach that Glopos engineers like best, on the other hand, is that the same algorithms can be used to position based on Wi-Fi or other radio data as well as cellular signals. They have tested their technology on Wi-Fi signals in a mall, and achieved 2-3 meter accuracy, without requiring map data for the site or the extensive fingerprinting process that other Wi-Fi based systems require.

But they didn't stop there. A month ago, when Grizzly Analytics released a report on indoor location positioning systems that achieve sub-meter accuracy, the folks at Glopos felt challenged to show that their technology can also achieve sub-meter accuracy. Their video shows their lab test, using Wi-Fi signals from four Wi-Fi access points around a meter-by-meter grid in their lab. In these conditions, their system achieved 9.4cm accuracy!  (See video below)

To be clear, these sub-meter results were in carefully-constructed lab conditions. Their accuracy in real-world conditions is as described above. But even so, this experiment shows the ability of their algorithms to work on a variety of radio signals to deliver a range of results, based on the signals and the application.

Grizzly Analytics believes that universal works-everywhere and always-on location positioning, such as that delivered by Glopos's technology, will completely revolutionize not only indoor location positioning but location applications in general.

Imagine if your mobile, tablet, or wearable device apps could use your location, indoors or outdoors, every minute of the day, with a few-meter accuracy. Your pedestrian navigation would work right away, even in a big city with bad GPS reception, without waiting for GPS connections. Your check-ins or location-sharing could tell your friends which coffee shop you're in, not just that you're in the mall. The Geotagging in your pictures would be accurate even when you take a picture quickly with GPS turned off. You could see nearby friends who were really nearby, not those who were nearby last time their GPS was turned on. Once location is available all the time, indoors and out, location based applications will work a lot better, all the time, and would drain your battery less.

So when will this universal location positioning be available? Glopos is not bringing their technology to market one mall or hospital at a time, rather they're working to leapfrog into the mass market. There are other companies with technology in the pipeline for universal positioning, some based on a technology called SLAM, but none really in the market, and none that have the low battery and CPU usage that Glopos has.

Hopefully the time is coming soon when our phones can know where they are all the time. Every time you wait for your phone to get GPS lock, or see hours-old locations when you start your applications, think forward to a time when location is universal. Stay tuned!

Here are the videos - first Glopos's test in a mall using only 3G signals:

and then their lab test of highly-accurate positioning:

New niche-area report: Sub-Meter Indoor Location Positioning Technology

New Report: Sub-Meter Indoor Location Positioning
August 18, 2014
The indoor location positioning technology area is growing tremendously. Not a week goes by that we don’t hear of new products or solutions, new start-up companies or new acquisitions in the area. But many of the systems reaching market don’t deliver the accuracy that users want.

Most recently, systems have reached the market that truly offer the levels of accuracy that users want. This new and focused report analyzes and explains the technologies and solutions that deliver location accuracy better than one meter.

Details of this report, and a link to purchase it, are available here:

Since 2011, Grizzly Analytics has analyzed and reported on Indoor Location Positioning technologies, both in research labs and in products and solutions. Our most recent comprehensive report was 417 pages, covering over 130 companies, and our next update will grow by over 25 companies. Our reports are unique in their in-depth coverage of the technologies involved, not just the markets and projections.

We are now launching a new series of reports, focusing on specific niche areas within indoor location. This report, on sub-meter accuracy indoor location technologies, is the first of this new series. Future reports are expected to include SLAM technology, software-only positioning, E911, chip-based positioning, and more.

If you want to learn more about highly accurate sub-meter indoor location positioning technology, see more about our report here:

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Or contact Grizzly Analytics:

griz-logo-2.JPGGrizzly Analytics LLC
Phone: +1-908-827-1580

Ultra-Wideband Poised to Enter Smartphones

Recent years have seen a constant increase in the speed at which software innovations reach market. One day’s new concept can be the next day’s innovative mobile application, the following day’s ten competing mobile applications, and the day after that’s built-in phone feature.

In hardware, however, innovation tends to go slower. Addition of new hardware chips or components to smartphones, for example, are a constant worry for smartphone manufacturers, who need to be 100% certain that the new innovation won’t in some way hurt the other functions and components of the phone.

Does adding a new chip affect in any way the electrical signals between the other chips? Does a new wireless component affect the radio waves of the core phone or wireless components? Do signals to or from a new antenna hurt the performance of other antennas in the device?

Early cellphones and smartphones often had concerns of this sort. Some early smartphones did not include vibrate-mode because the shaking interacted with other components. Some early Wi-Fi antennas interacted with cellular antenna signals. Witness the trouble Apple had with a small antenna design change on the iPhone 4.

One new wireless technology that is reaching market is ultra-wideband (UWB) radio. UWB radio is used to communicate between devices, similar to Bluetooth, but with a higher data rate. UWB has also been designed specifically to transmit in a way that enables much more precise distance measurements and location positioning.

This last aspect of UWB, its ability to measure distances and locations more precisely and more reliably than other common wireless protocols, has led several start-up companies to bring innovative UWB technology to market. UWB has launched in an OEM module from Time Domain, in a chip from DecaWave, and in technology from BlinkSight, Zebra Technologies and others. The single-chip implementation from DecaWave is particularly amenable to integration into electronic devices. But until recently UWB has not been integrated inside smartphones.
A French start-up company called BeSpoon has now demonstrated that UWB technology can be successfully integrated into a smartphone. The SpoonPhone is currently only a prototype, but is being sold to hardware manufacturers and software developers for R&D and evaluation purposes.

The SpoonPhone is able to measure the distance between the phone and a UWB tag very precisely. As this video shows, the distance ranging is both accurate and fast. And most significantly, it’s a phone that works while having a UWB chip embedded. BeSpoon was unwilling to reveal the proprietaryengineering involved in embedding the chip, so we cannot analyze or comment on the methods used, but the bottom line is that the SpoonPhone demonstrates that UWB chips can be integrated inside smartphones without causing problems.

BeSpoon has not yet implemented full location positioning using their technology – their efforts until now have been spent on producing the SpoonPhone. Other companies, however, have developed location positioning based on UWB, such as this demonstration by SK Telecom based on single-chip UWB technology. 

What would you do with a UWB-equipped smartphone? Finding keys and wallets with attached tags is the clearest example, but there are many more. Do you want to be notified if you walk out of range of your jacket or purse while out for the evening? Do you want to carry a small tag in your pocket so that you can find your phone or avoid leaving your phone behind? How about changing your phone to vibrate mode when entering your boss’s office, or turning on your air conditioner when entering your living room? Or how about knowing exactly where you were as you move around a big site? 

Beyond distance measurements and location positioning, UWB can also be used for wireless communications. Would you want a remote control to tell your phone to snap a picture of you? Or a light switch that turns on the lights when you walk into the room? Or the ability to play music on the CD player that's in the same room?

All of these can be done with a wide variety of indoor location technology, but benefit from the increased precision that UWB can deliver.

Now that UWB has been demonstrated to work inside a smartphone, it’s up to phone manufacturers to decide if and when to release a phone that incorporates it. As soon as that happens, the door is open to a whole new range of exciting very precise location based applications.

Here is the video mentioned above of the SpoonPhone in action:

Innovative indoor location technologies based on sound and light - from MWC 2014

Going through my pictures and videos from MWC 2014, there are two innovative indoor location positioning technologies that I haven't written about. Both are still at an early stage, and it's not yet clear how they will compete or integrate with indoor location technology already developed by the more than 130 companies in the area. But bottom line, it's great to see new innovative approaches continue to be researched.

The first is from MTI, in Tokyo, who has developed location positioning technology based on inaudible sound waves. Their beacons emit sonic waves at around 20kHz, which people cannot hear but phone microphones can pick up. Smartphones used the sound waves they "hear" to trilaterate their positions. The key point is that they can do so without using any radio technology, using only their microphones.

As you can see in the video below, their system enables smartphones to track their location with high precision. This video was taken in a very crowded and noisy conference with lots of technology all around. Many indoor location systems, especially those based on Wi-Fi signals, were having trouble at the conference. MTI had a lot of beacons set up in their booth, one beacon every few meters as shown, but in general use they say that beacons are needs for every 10 square meters, and can be optimized further based on height and sound level.

Bottom line, their technology uses an esoteric and innovative approach to deliver sub-meter location accuracy, using smartphone microphones.

The second technology, from i2Cat in Barcelona, uses modified LED lights that encode their locations into the light that they emit. By analyzing the light waves and decoding the signals, smartphones can determine which light they're nearest. While this won't give sub-meter accuracy, it will very easily position as accurate as the distance between lights, which is enough for many applications.

i2Cat is not the first to offer location positioning based on modulated light - the best known company in this area is ByteLight, and at least three major mobile companies have researched it. i2Cat's innovation is that the light signals are sensed and decoded using the smartphone's ambient light sensor, not the camera. The ambient light sensor is how your phone makes the screen brighter in the sunlight and dimmer (to save battery) in the dark. Using the ambient light sensor uses much less battery power than using the camera, and enables i2Cat's technology to effectively and efficiently recognize and decode the location signals. Ambient light sensors can't decode as high a data rate as a camera can, but are sufficient for decoding an ID tag for each light. The company is still testing their technology on ambient light sensors of a variety of phones - it runs now on several Samsung Galaxy devices.

As the indoor location technology area continues to develop, it's great to see new technologies still being innovated. How they will fit into the broader ecosystem of location technologies remains to be seen.

Here is the video of MTI's sonic wave positioning system:

And here is the video of i2Cat's LED based positioning system:

More indications of indoor location news at Apple's WWDC 2014

Next week, on June 2, Apple is having their WWDC conference, where they generally announce new developments of all types other than new iPhones. Rumors are circulating about what they're going to announce. Will it be the long-rumored iWatch? An updated iTV? 

Apple's WWDC schedule now gives an interesting tidbit, in the description of a special event on Wednesday June 4 at 4:30pm: "Maps, Location, and iBeacon Get Together:  Your phone always knows where it is. Using information about a device's location can help personalize your app and make it more engaging and memorable."

This gives some credence to a prediction Grizzly Analytics made a few weeks ago, that Apple is going to announce indoor location technology that enables iDevices to track their locations indoors, anywhere, in any building. SLAM technology can, in principle, enable the first iDevices that move around a building to learn about that building, so that all future iDevices to enter the building can track their locations effectively.

Here's an excerpt:  "I speculate that Apple is preparing to release SLAM on iOS. The reasons are (1) their recently hiring Phillip Stanger, with his focus on indoor location, (2) a recently published patent application, (3) their acquisition of start-up company WiFiSLAM one year ago, (4) their introduction of the M7 motion sensing chip in the iPhone 5s, (5) some plans for the upcoming WWDC conference, and (6) Apple's out-of-character history of both supporting and preventing indoor location technology on iPhones."

Apple's comment above focuses not on maps but on apps, which we wrote about a year ago, in analyzing Apple's acquisition of start-up WiFiSLAM.

Of course, Apple is incredibly hard to predict, and have a knack for surprising us. So stay tuned to WWDC to see if this and the dozens of other WWDC predictions come to fruition.....

Adding more Smarts to Smart Wireless Lighting

Wireless Lighting. Smart lighting. These are phrases that are starting to reach market, at least among early adopters. To some it sounds like the obvious next thing. To others it sounds like techies making simple things complicated.  It’s certainly a new and growing trend, with several start-up companies and projects in the area, and some major electronics companies joining the fray.

“Wireless lighting” refers to systems in which individual bulbs can be controlled wirelessly. “Smart lighting” refers to systems in which individual bulbs can be controlled intelligently by a computerized control unit. In many systems the two are combined, with a computer controlling the light bulbs intelligently and wirelessly, and the terms are often used interchangeably.

Is smart wireless lighting the wave of the future, or a silly use of technology for no good purpose?

Looking at some of the start-ups in the area gives credence to the cynics. One project, for example, promotes the ability to adjust the lights in your room from your smartphone or tablet, having lights dim or flash when you get notifications on your phone, and have a set of lights flicker to the beat of the music you’re listening to. Another project uses smart lights to visualize data, changing color to reflect the weather forecast, the types of messages waiting for you, and so on. Are these really the goals and dreams that drive new technology? Will enough people want to have any of the above lighting features to enable a company to stay in business?

Bigger companies, however, are focusing on delivering real value with wireless lighting. For example, LG Innotek, a sister company of LG Electronics (LGEAF), is delivering wireless lighting in industrial settings, where site owners want to deploy lighting without having to run the electrical wires in the walls and ceilings. This benefit has made LG Innotek’s wireless lights valuable to a number of big industrial customers. They also add motion sensors to their lights, enabling them to act as security or emergency lights.

LG Innotek is now taking their wireless lights to a new level. The company is exploring the use of ultra-wideband (UWB) radio chips from a start-up company called DecaWave in place of its current wireless network. UWB has several benefits, including low power usage, but its most game-changing benefit is its support for indoor location positioning. DecaWave’s DW1000 chips, currently under exploration by LG Innotek, can determine their own locations relative to the locations of other chips in the area. With UWB-equipped lighting installed, other UWB-equipped objects or tags in the area will be able to determine their locations very precisely.

As a practical benefit, lights that contain location-positioning chips can be put anywhere, and they will register their own locations in the controller system. This means that controlling the lights wirelessly doesn’t require managing where each light bulb is placed, rather each light can position itself on a console’s map. This is a big time-saver in a big industrial site.

Wireless location-tracking lights can comprise a location-tracking system, to track the locations of people, equipment, carts, and other industrial equipment as they move around the site. A big challenge in industrial location systems of this sort is to deploy the location-tracking infrastructure, and if this is included in the lights, this requirement is handled.

Other companies are also looking at adding location positioning to lighting systems. Philips (PHG), for example, is also planning to add location to their personal wireless lighting systems. They are using Visible Light Communications (VLC) technology to transmit each light’s location to camera-equipped devices nearby. This has an advantage of working on more devices, since the visible light communication can be picked up by smartphones and tablets with their built-in cameras, but it won’t work when the lights are off, when power is off, in an emergency situation, and when there is smoke or other interference in the air.

In principle, visible light can in principle provide more precise distance and location measurements than most radio methods. When light is used in very short pulses, it can be used for high-bandwidth communication and can measure distances very precisely. But in practice, most visible light systems for indoor location can only handle signals from one light at a time. Such systems can determine their general location, usually right below the light whose signal they are receiving, and this is enough for a lot of applications. But such systems cannot do precise location positioning in the way that radio-based methods can, and certainly not achieve the 10cm accuracy that UWB-based methods can achieve.

Most importantly, the UWB wireless technology being explored by LG Innotek won’t only be for location positioning, but will also support the wireless control that LG Innotek has been delivering. While it’s transmitting information to turn lights on and off, the radio waves themselves will support highly-accurate location positioning. At the same time as industrial sites are selecting LG Innotek’s lighting for the cost benefits of wireless control, they’ll gain the ability to deliver location positioning.

So if you’re working on deploying wireless lighting around your site, it makes sense to deploy lighting that supports location positioning. Not only will your console know where your lights are automatically, but you can also track locations of people and things moving around your site. These benefits might not be as fun as having lights flicker to the beat of your music, but it’s a lot more tangible a benefit.

The era of pervasive location positioning

The acquisition of an early stage Israeli start-up company, KitLocate, by Russian Internet giant Yandex (YNDX), was treated as yet another small M&A in the press. Many articles reported the acquisition, summarized KitLocate's technology for reducing the power consumption of GPS-based mobile applications, mentioned that Yandex is maintaining the KitLocate office as an Israeli R&D center, and then moved to the next topic. Yet another acquisition.

But the implications of this acquisition are in fact much greater. Yandex's adoption and promotion of KitLocate's technology is ushering in an era in which mobile location-based services are pervasive, meaning that instead of being turn-on-turn-off, they are always on. This has huge implications for mobile technology and related M&A....

See the full article on SeekingAlpha: Yandex's Acquisition Of KitLocate Foreshadows An Era Of Pervasive Location Services

Broadcom indoor location positioning demo at MWC 2014

Catching up on some of the great technology I saw at the 2014 Mobile
World Congress (MWC) one month ago, here's a video of Broadcom's indoor location positioning technology demo. Broadcom makes chips, and this demo shows one of their chips tracking the location of a phone as it moves around.

UPDATED: The Samsung phone shown here is a Samsung Galaxy S4 that contains a Broadcom Wi-Fi chip, running special software to interact with a Broadcom chip inside the Wi-Fi access points used in the demo, which are also running special software inside. More on this below.

Broadcom's location positioning, in this demo, is based on a technique called Wi-Fi trilateration. This means that the phone starts with a database of locations of Wi-Fi access points, and calculates its own location based on the distances that it computes from each nearby access point. 

Broadcom's primary innovation here is that the trilateration is not done using signal strength, which tends to give only 8-10 meter accuracy in trilateration. Broadcom's system adds to the signals as they're sent from the access points and from the phones, in a way that enables much more precise determination of the distance of the phone to each access point. As this picture shows, a phone with a Broadcom chip measures distance to an access point very close to a professional measuring tool.

This demo uses only Wi-Fi trilateration, without any other techniques (sensor fusion, fingerprinting) integrated. This is why the arrow sometimes faces the wrong direction. This shows the power of their trilateration - presumably they could add sensor fusion as well.

The lack of fingerprinting is very significant. Many indoor location systems need to be fine-tuned for the specific site in which they're deployed, with sample signals collected every few meters throughout the site. This is how most software-only indoor location systems achieve their accuracy. But by working at the hardware level, Broadcom is able to achieve meter-level accuracy based only on a database of access point locations.

To learn more about the technologies used for indoor location positioning and the more than 100 companies researching them and bringing them to market, see our comprehensive report at http://www.grizzlyanalytics.com/report_2014_02_Indoor.html

Here's the video: