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.

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