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Apple buys 'indoor GPS' company WifiSLAM for $20M

post #1 of 83
Thread Starter 
Apple recently closed a deal worth about $20 million to acquire WifiSLAM, a Silicon Valley firm focused on building technology that affords users positioning data while indoors.

WifiSLAM
WifiSLAM's positioning data in action. | Source: WifiSLAM


The Wall Street Journal was able to confirm the acquisition with an Apple spokesman, though the company did not give details of the deal or what it plans to do with WifiSLAM's "indoor GPS" technology.

"[Apple] buys smaller technology companies from time to time,? the spokesman said, declining further comment.

In the report, the publication cited people familiar with the acquisition as saying Apple paid some $20 million in the recently closed deal.

WifiSLAM is a developer of indoor positioning technologies, which extends location data to the inside of buildings and other structures using Wi-Fi signals. The data can be used by third-party apps to accurately grant handset users positioning data where GPS signals are absent.

The indoor positioning startup is two years old and has already raised funding from angel investors, though the exact amount is unknown. WifiSLAM has a number of ties to Google, including the company's co-founder Joseph Huang, who was a software engineering intern at the search giant. Current Google employee Don Dodge is also listed as an angel investor.

Apple could implement the positioning assets into its much maligned iOS Maps app as an answer to Google's Indoor Maps initiative, which leverages crowdsourcing to deliver indoor location information for a number of sites worldwide.

While Apple's first-party mapping service has seen improvements since stumbling out of the gates in September 2012, many users still prefer to use the Google Maps iOS app, which offers features like Street View and a more robust set of satellite imagery.
post #2 of 83
This would be cool for hospitals, airports and universities. It's easy to get lost in those places. Shopping centres too where they have a layout of where the shops and toilets are.
post #3 of 83
This could be a great thing as much of their mall etc data is way off. As it could also improve iOS accessibility functions. Imagine Siri being able to not only guide someone to a building but also to an actual store or office.

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post #4 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

This would be cool for hospitals, airports and universities. It's easy to get lost in those places. Shopping centres too where they have a layout of where the shops and toilets are.

Google indoor maps seems to be a work in progress. They have mapped a limited number of buildings. I'm not sure what criteria they use in deciding which locations to map but based on the link in this article I tried this one:

 

Go to Google Maps (I'm on my iMac using the desktop version) search for "Chicago O'Hare International Airport" then zoom in to the maximum level centered on the terminal. There are several toilets indicated by purple circles with male and female symbols. 

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post #5 of 83
Interesting!
post #6 of 83

There is a good discussion over at Asymco that centers around Apple's iTunes -- and it's possible e tension to include offerings for both physical and virtual stores.

 

http://www.asymco.com/2013/03/22/so-long-break-even/#disqus_thread

 

When I saw this story on 925mac -- the first thing that came to mind was the social aspect of shopping -- and I posted this:

 

 

 

 

Quote:
Here's an interesting link that may indicate Apple plans to exploit the social aspect of mapping -- and, more on topic, the social aspect of physical shopping integrated with virtual online 
 
 
One thing that is often overlooked in physical and virtual store design is the social aspect -- where your friends are, what they are looking at... buying...
 
AIR, Apple already has, or has applied for, several patents related to this.
 

 


Edited by Dick Applebaum - 3/23/13 at 7:21pm
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post #7 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

There is a good discussion over at Asymco that centers around Apple's iTunes -- and it's possible e tension to include offerings for both physical and virtual stores.

 

http://www.asymco.com/2013/03/22/so-long-break-even/#disqus_thread

 

When I saw this story on 925mac -- the first thing that came to mind was the social aspect of shopping -- and I posted this:

 

 

 

 

 

I can really appreciate the potential for this; I can also see a lot of reasons to be leery of how it could be abused. Part of that may be the generation gap in my case; I'm just not "social enough" to want to know what my friends are doing or where they're at at any given time.

 

I'd rather see this being adapted for use as other people have mentioned - mapping hospitals, malls, museums, etc. But, I'm realistic enough to know that things will develop in so many ways I can't even begin to predict or imagine. Time will tell whether or not they're good directions or not.

post #8 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave MacLachlan View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

There is a good discussion over at Asymco that centers around Apple's iTunes -- and it's possible e tension to include offerings for both physical and virtual stores.

 

http://www.asymco.com/2013/03/22/so-long-break-even/#disqus_thread

 

When I saw this story on 925mac -- the first thing that came to mind was the social aspect of shopping -- and I posted this:

 

 

 

 

 

I can really appreciate the potential for this; I can also see a lot of reasons to be leery of how it could be abused. Part of that may be the generation gap in my case; I'm just not "social enough" to want to know what my friends are doing or where they're at at any given time.

 

I'd rather see this being adapted for use as other people have mentioned - mapping hospitals, malls, museums, etc. But, I'm realistic enough to know that things will develop in so many ways I can't even begin to predict or imagine. Time will tell whether or not they're good directions or not.

 

It may not be a generational thing…

 

Many sellers have offered online grocery shopping with competitive pricing  & free delivery... Over the years.  None have been really successful, and, AIR, studies were made to determine why.

 

One, obvious reason is that the housewife wanted to squeeze the tomatoes and tap/smell the cantalopes.

 

A very prominent finding was unexpected -- the housewife wanted to get out of the house and sociaalize with her friends (I often see them, leaning on their carts, walking side-by-side, blocking the aisles).

 

Also, a single friend found the supermarket an excellent place to pick up girls.

 

Many malls are social hangouts -- offering everything you could want to connect with friends in a safe, convenient, temperature-controlled environment,

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post #9 of 83

Gatorguy's slipping. You'd think he would have already posted his wholly off-topic mention of Google doing "indoor GPS" first.

Originally Posted by Marvin

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Originally Posted by Marvin

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post #10 of 83
I was trying to program an app a few years ago that would provide exact location information for an iOS device with the ultimate goal of changing a profile within the iOS device depending on where the device was currently located. Apple didn't have the capability for a non-Apple app to do this. Maybe this indoor GPS capability will provide the necessary api's to let me finish the app. This app would be useful for those companies allowing BYOD iPhones. Once the phones are within a restricted area/building (as determined by the company's MDM system), a custom profile would be activated that shuts certain features down making the phone secure enough to operate within that area/building. If you have to ask why this would be beneficial, you don't understand the type of area/building I'm talking about.

In this instance I am worried about knowing exactly where these phones are when they are anywhere near where I would be monitoring them. Because of where these phones would be used, the owner of the phone has already given up all right to privacy.
post #11 of 83

Useful for find my I phone, 

post #12 of 83
Originally Posted by rob53 View Post
Once the phones are within a restricted area/building (as determined by the company's MDM system), a custom profile would be activated that shuts certain features down making the phone secure enough to operate within that area/building.

 

Ooh. Ooh. Not to want to put you out of business, but I hope Apple does this (for the purpose of ground-up integration). This would be of great benefit to both themselves and to almost any company.

Originally Posted by Marvin

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Originally Posted by Marvin

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post #13 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Ooh. Ooh. Not to want to put you out of business, but I hope Apple does this (for the purpose of ground-up integration). This would be of great benefit to both themselves and to almost any company.

I suspect "Situationally Aware Settings" be a key feature of iOS 7. This would eliminate several reasons to jailbreak that I have seen discussed often and Apple iOS major releases have demonstrated a pattern of developing features that customers desire and reduce the desire to jailbreak. An API wouldn't surprise me either.
post #14 of 83
It seems if you want to be bought out by Apple, don't so much develop a product as a useful technology.
post #15 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by charlituna View Post

This could be a great thing as much of their mall etc data is way off. As it could also improve iOS accessibility functions. Imagine Siri being able to not only guide someone to a building but also to an actual store or office.

 

Yeap.  I think that's the general ideal.

post #16 of 83
Quote:
It could also be a very interesting acquisition target for the likes of Google or Microsoft, which have big mapping businesses.

 

Lost In The Mall? This Startup Wants To Help

 

 

 

Wrong on both counts. Smart buy by Apple but I hope the technology is already more advanced than using WI-FI alone.

post #17 of 83

I wish AI hadn't repeated the nonsensical "Indoor GPS" headline that some other blogs used.  It doesn't use satellites, therefore it is not a "GPS" method, no matter how much some non-techies want the term to be generic for any locating method.

 

"Combinational input indoor locating" would be a far more accurate description.

 

--

 

SLAM = Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, which is usually associated with autonomous robots.   Basically it's combining various inputs to build up a map from user movements (or update a known map with data points), while also keeping track of the user.   

 

In this case, they use a combination of WiFi hotspot transmit-to-receive timing (not levels, which could change if an office door opens), accelerometer output for dead reckoning (especially to detect sharp turns), magnetometer area level mapping, and even camera / brightness recognition.  Pretty fascinating.

 

Takes effort and experimentation to combine these things in a meaningful way, which is no doubt why Apple figured it was quicker and cheaper just to buy the group.

post #18 of 83

^ It's explained quite clearly that GPS signals don't work indoors and it relies in WiFi. They put indoor-GPS in quotes which to me suggests they're not being literal.

 

Is that all you have to complain about?

post #19 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by EricTheHalfBee View Post

Is that all you have to complain about?

 

 

At least I used my pet peeve about the misuse of "GPS" as a jumping off point to give everyone more detail on what it actually was about, and how it worked using much more input than just the possible existence of WiFi hotspots... this being important information that was missing from the article, and a reason to buy the company over all the usual indoor locating firms.


Edited by KDarling - 3/23/13 at 9:26pm
post #20 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by matrix07 View Post

Quote:
It could also be a very interesting acquisition target for the likes of Google or Microsoft, which have big mapping businesses.

 

Lost In The Mall? This Startup Wants To Help

 

 

 

Wrong on both counts. Smart buy by Apple but I hope the technology is already more advanced than using WI-FI alone.

 

From reading the articles, and a little research, I don't believe they use the WIFi networks -- a security/access nightmare.  Rather, I think they somehow use the existence of the WiFi networks in an area to determine location... Likely with assisted GPS.  Don't know how it works, but this could be a breakthrough.

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post #21 of 83

" many users still prefer to use the Google Maps iOS app, which offers features like Street View and a more robust set of satellite imagery."

 

Is this a fact or you guys are paid to write this.

 

Using goog maps because of street view and a more robust.... you guys are joking here. right?

post #22 of 83

If you can get a bearing on at least 3 wifi base stations (2 would work but at precision loss) which are GPS positioned, you get a triangulation which can be very good, and it is not that much a strech to call that in-door GPS, as it is conceptually the same thing and GPS is used at first level.

 

No idea if it is how that system works, but that is a distinct possibility. You can get the bearing by the relative strength of signal with a midly directionnal antenna if the handset move a bit.

post #23 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Gatorguy's slipping. You'd think he would have already posted his wholly off-topic mention of Google doing "indoor GPS" first.

A little unusual for you to put out bait, and even more unusual for you to point out Google doing indoor location if you considered it "wholly off-topic" 1tongue.gif

Daniel already put out a great little troll attracter yesterday, and it was pretty effective. Some of the new ones he was looking for may even stay around awhile. Weekends are typically slow.
Edited by Gatorguy - 3/24/13 at 7:47am
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post #24 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Google indoor maps seems to be a work in progress. They have mapped a limited number of buildings. I'm not sure what criteria they use in deciding which locations to map but based on the link in this article I tried this one:

Go to Google Maps (I'm on my iMac using the desktop version) search for "Chicago O'Hare International Airport" then zoom in to the maximum level centered on the terminal. There are several toilets indicated by purple circles with male and female symbols.

Having the map alone is ok as long as you can figure out where you are on the map from the GPS signal. Sometimes it's accurate, sometimes not. I gather the wifi will be used to accentuate the GPS data. Google Maps is also flat so it's not always easy to find out what's upstairs or downstairs.

It could go beyond just a mapping solution though. If you're at the airport, there could be a service where you put in your flight number and it will know where you are, how far you are from the gate and your departure time so it could give you alerts about when you need to move to the gate. When you are out shopping, you can get product searches so you don't have to go into every shop to find the kind of clothing you want e.g locations of leather jackets and prices and you go and try them out.
post #25 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by KDarling View Post

I wish AI hadn't repeated the nonsensical "Indoor GPS" headline that some other blogs used.  It doesn't use satellites, therefore it is not a "GPS" method, no matter how much some non-techies want the term to be generic for any locating method.


"Combinational input indoor locating" would be a far more accurate description.

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post #26 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

This would be cool for hospitals, airports and universities. It's easy to get lost in those places. Shopping centres too where they have a layout of where the shops and toilets are.

 

I'd vote your comment up but this forum software absolutely sucks and isn't possible on iOS.

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post #27 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

I'd vote your comment up but this isn't possible on iOS.
Sure it is.
Edited by SolipsismX - 3/24/13 at 6:14am

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post #28 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

Having the map alone is ok as long as you can figure out where you are on the map from the GPS signal. Sometimes it's accurate, sometimes not. I gather the wifi will be used to accentuate the GPS data. Google Maps is also flat so it's not always easy to find out what's upstairs or downstairs.

Determining exactly where you are with GPS requires a clear view to the sky. Satellite signals are attenuated/scattered by things like walls and roofs. Then throw in the unfortunate fact that GPS location is much less reliable vertically (altitude) than it is horizontally. GPS alone would be relatively useless in determining if you are on the second floor or the fourth even with a strong signal.

For several years now indoor location service providers and researchers have usually paired your general GPS coordinates with a wireless network of known WiFi stations, tho sometimes including RFID or UWB instead or in addition. When WiFi is combined with GPS signals to determine indoor location it's called WPS for WiFi Positioning System. It's currently a fairly common method and can supposedly be as accurate as 25 feet or so.

Much more recently there's been some research that's identified ways for indoor location to be determined without using GPS signals at all. One that I read about a couple months back used the relative strength of three or more found WiFi signals to determine whether and in which direction you're moving. Another uses just the inertial sensors on your smart device to track your movements, no GPS or WiFi required after the initial location fix.

(Edited - Confirmed info after initial post) WiFiSlam uses both WiFi and your smartphone inertial sensors to track your location and assist retailers getting their product in front of you. Their sensor-only location reliability is fairly rough according to them. No idea if there are actual patents included in the deal besides their location algorithm. Their blog and videos have already been pulled.

EDIT2: GPS World has had some excellent references to new indoor location solutions. One short and sweet one from this month talks about the same general technology that WiFiSlam uses. Yeah, I have a hard-copy subscription to GPS World. I'm a location geek.
http://www.gpsworld.com/category/wireless/indoor-positioning/
Edited by Gatorguy - 3/24/13 at 7:11am
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post #29 of 83
This would be a great technology for retailers and product placement. They could determine how long a person stands in a certain isle, etc. the store could then sell the information to their suppliers for better product placement.

Or it could be used by first responders in case of an emergency to locate a person in a large building, or used by police during hostage situations.
post #30 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

I'd vote your comment up but this forum software absolutely sucks and isn't possible on iOS.

Use the Mobile version of the site, at the bottom:



And yes, then the forum software still sucks on your iPhone
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post #31 of 83
It's not necessary to say "much maligned" before iOS 6 Maps. Because, when does it ever stop being that if Apple keeps making small, incremental improvements? Think Final Cut X or MobileMe, which were incrementally fixed. You guys -- all of you AI staff writers -- need to just call it Maps. Believe me, people have deep memories for negative sound bites. Most people still remember the Doonsbury comic lampooning the (original) Newton's handwriting recognition when in fact, after years of incremental improvements, Apple had some of the best handwriting recognition available by the time the MessagePad 130 shipped.

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post #32 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

It's not necessary to say "much maligned" before iOS 6 Maps.

 

A little off topic, but as for what exactly we call the app, "iOS 6 Maps" is a bit of a mouthful, and does anyone else's tongue feel like it will slip on "Apple Maps" because of the awkward inner alliteration? I suggest we should just call it "Mapples" for short... (I'm joking - unless anyone else agrees, anyway.)

post #33 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

 

It may not be a generational thing…

 

Many sellers have offered online grocery shopping with competitive pricing  & free delivery... Over the years.  None have been really successful, and, AIR, studies were made to determine why.

 

One, obvious reason is that the housewife wanted to squeeze the tomatoes and tap/smell the cantalopes.

 

A very prominent finding was unexpected -- the housewife wanted to get out of the house and sociaalize with her friends (I often see them, leaning on their carts, walking side-by-side, blocking the aisles).

 

Also, a single friend found the supermarket an excellent place to pick up girls.

 

Many malls are social hangouts -- offering everything you could want to connect with friends in a safe, convenient, temperature-controlled environment,

Think you might've nailed it.

post #34 of 83
A potentially very useful technology. Glad Apple's got it now.
post #35 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by vXhanz View Post

This would be a great technology for retailers and product placement. They could determine how long a person stands in a certain isle, etc. the store could then sell the information to their suppliers for better product placement.

Or it could be used by first responders in case of an emergency to locate a person in a large building, or used by police during hostage situations.

In addition to the benefits mentioned by vXhanz, I concur with those mentioned by Marvin and charlituna about airports, hospitals, hotels, convention centers, and especially finding things at indoor malls.  Something that will be of increasing importance, however, is elevation data: which floor of the mall or hospital or parking garage is the person or destination located on?  Will the WifiSLAM tech provide such information?  Hopefully so!

post #36 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

I'd vote your comment up but this forum software absolutely sucks and isn't possible on iOS.

It's the thought that counts. I think the whole thumb-up thing is part of the overt approval culture we have now. I suppose we always had it in various forms but there's too much of the subscribe to my blog, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube channel or hit the like button so that I can feel validated about how important my contribution is. If it wasn't so ironic, I'd give the whole process a thumbs down so I will instead give it my unreserved apathy.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gatorguy 
GPS alone would be relatively useless in determining if you are on the second floor or the fourth even with a strong signal.

I meant more from the mapping point of view. You'd generally know which floor you were on so you'd select it manually and the GPS would show where you were horizontally.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gatorguy 
Much more recently there's been some research that's identified ways for indoor location to be determined without using GPS signals at all. One that I read about a couple months back used the relative strength of three or more found WiFi signals to determine whether and in which direction you're moving. Another uses just the inertial sensors on your smart device to track your movements, no GPS or WiFi required after the initial location fix.

I think they need to start relying on other smartphones sharing data, even if it's just the same models. If there are 10 smartphones in various locations, surely it can take an average of their positional data and get a pretty accurate measurement. It would only have to update every few seconds while in motion just to check everything was still accurate.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gatorguy 
WiFiSlam uses both WiFi and your smartphone inertial sensors to track your location and assist retailers getting their product in front of you.

Maybe this will be the new Siri. They generally lack features to show off with the 'S' model of devices so now they can do the improved shopping experience.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gatorguy 
Yeah, I have a hard-copy subscription to GPS World. I'm a location geek.

lol.gif I've never heard of that affliction before. It's better than caravans I suppose but I can't imagine how anyone could write a lot of articles about GPS to have a magazine subscription. Please tell me there isn't a column where people write in telling stories about how they got lost in various places.
Quote:
Originally Posted by TeaEarleGreyHot 
Something that will be of increasing importance, however, is elevation data: which floor of the mall or hospital or parking garage is the person or destination located on?

I'd like to see them go a step further with the parking because they can tell the difference between the phone being in the car and when you start walking from the device measurements. So when the car stops, it knows when you got out and therefore where your car is parked. If you forget where it is, just say 'Siri, where am I parked' and voila, it uses your indoor measurements to find where you are and the data from when you got out to direct you.
post #37 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by TeaEarleGreyHot View Post

Something that will be of increasing importance, however, is elevation data: which floor of the mall or hospital or parking garage is the person or destination located on?  Will the WifiSLAM tech provide such information?  Hopefully so!

I have not seen any information on how it works but I assume it is using something similar to cell tower triangulation but with wifi. In order for something like this to work the exact location of the wifi hot spot must be known in advance. If that data is available then it could triangulate in 3D space. Even though the wifi may be locked, as long as it is broadcasting SSID you should be able to get a response from it for timing but the accuracy could be an issue depending on the latency. I think it is pretty clear that this is a technology that will need to be installed in public buildings with the cooperation of the building owner.


Edited by mstone - 3/24/13 at 10:24am

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post #38 of 83

I think this will be great, but it won't work very well for a long time because people will freak out about the "privacy" implications and turn the feature off all the time.  

They will then simultaneously criticise Apple for the paucity of areas where the indoor maps exist even though it's their fault essentially for being such a paranoid nitwit in the first place.  

post #39 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

 

It may not be a generational thing…

 

Many sellers have offered online grocery shopping with competitive pricing  & free delivery... Over the years.  None have been really successful, and, AIR, studies were made to determine why.

 

One, obvious reason is that the housewife wanted to squeeze the tomatoes and tap/smell the cantalopes.

 

A very prominent finding was unexpected -- the housewife wanted to get out of the house and sociaalize with her friends (I often see them, leaning on their carts, walking side-by-side, blocking the aisles).

 

Also, a single friend found the supermarket an excellent place to pick up girls.

 

Many malls are social hangouts -- offering everything you could want to connect with friends in a safe, convenient, temperature-controlled environment,

 

I know you don't mean it, and by your previous comments on the forum it's probably just because you are incredibly old but … this is one offensive, sexist post.  

 

Only "housewives" shop for groceries? (until some dude want to "pick up a girl" I guess) 1rolleyes.gif

 

I think you should leave the 1960's behind once in a while and think about what life is like today.  

post #40 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gatorguy View Post


No idea if there are actual patents included in the deal besides their location algorithm.

There's no issued patents included as far as I can tell, but there is at least one patent application in the pipes:

Abstract:
A method of generating a user's location using a mobile device. The method comprises, determining a signal snapshot on the mobile device, the signal snapshot describing characteristics of unregulated radio frequency (RF) transmissions detectable by the mobile device. Generating the user?s location on the mobile device using the signal snapshot and at least one additional input from the mobile device. The generating and determining are iteratively repeated. The unregulated RF transmission can comprise WiFi signals.

Patent application #US2012/020875
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