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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:

















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