A new patent demonstrating accurate indoor positioning was granted to Apple on Tuesday, which could potentially bring indoor navigation to the iPhone in the relatively near future. The patent, which uses GPS, existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, and “onboard location databases,” will provide accurate indoor positioning in “nearly any environment.”
The patent, called “Determining a location of a mobile device using a location database,” is number 8,700,060 and you can find it on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website.
According to the patent, the method described provides a location estimation by the connection of a device to one or multiple Wi-Fi access points. A mobile device can use this new technology to narrow down its position on a map by calculating a number of factors including access point filtering, hardware communication range, and “presence areas.”
First, a location-aware mobile device or devices (meaning those with a GPS connection) transmits its location to a Wi-Fi access point, pushing that information to a server which holds this location information. This data can be used to create the aforementioned “presence areas,” which help tell the approximate location of other devices connected to (or within range of) that same access point.
These presence areas are calculated, according to the patent, in a variety of ways. Of these include “averaging of geographic locations based on location-aware devices,” “signal strength of a given access point and surrounding building architecture,” and others. These “presence areas” are selected in a “multi-pass” process which filters out potentials based on “popularity, stability, longevity, and freshness.”
The patented technology actually plots all of the connected devices on a geographic grid. “Each cell acts as a container for presence areas and corresponding access points. As seen in the image above, location-aware devices are represented as black triangles that are within or nearby presence areas denoted by circles.”
While the patent outlines many ways a connected device can determine its location, one way is by detecting the “presence areas” around it and averaging distance from the ones that are near the device, as well as discarding data from “outliers” (which are drastically different from the rest of the locations). This information, obviously, would be able to be used by mapping applications and the device which isn’t as location-aware (without GPS) could have its position shown more accurately.
Another way a device can find its location is by receiving location information sent by an access point about other access points nearby, including “only those that are within a mobile device’s area of interest.” Lastly, Apple’s patented technology takes three-dimensional space into account by using altititude data from devices which have built-in GPS technology.
Notably, this technology is very similar to that of indoor GPS company WifiSLAM, which was purchased by Apple in March of 2013. However, this patent seems to have built on that technology by incorporating GPS, as WifiSLAM’s technology relies largely on Wi-Fi signals.
Google is hard at work to bring its Google Maps technology indoors and provide indoor navigation and positioning through a variety of technologies. It’s comforting to see that Apple is as well.