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Apple tech uses Wi-Fi access points for indoor navigation, 3D positioning

post #1 of 17
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While most mobile devices rely on GPS for mapping and navigation, the system only works outdoors and in range of satellite timing signals. However, new technology from Apple could extend accurate positioning indoors without need for additional hardware aside from existing Wi-Fi infrastructure.

WifiSLAM
Apple purchased indoor GPS firm WifiSLAM last March. | Source: WifiSLAM


A patent granted to Apple by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday describes a robust system that combines GPS, Wi-Fi access points and onboard location databases to provide mobile devices accurate positioning data in nearly any environment.

According to Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,700,060 for "Determining a location of a mobile device using a location database," the method employs location estimation through the successful communication with one or multiple Wi-Fi access points.

By calculating a number of factors, including access point filtering, hardware communication range and so-called "presence areas," a mobile device can narrow down its position on a map with relative precision. This includes products without GPS receivers.

One of the first steps in Apple's patent calls for a location-aware device or devices (with GPS capabilities) to transmit their position to a first Wi-Fi access point, which in turn relays the information to a server-based location system. From this data, the system can then estimate the approximate location, or "presence areas," of other devices within the communication range of the access point.


Source: USPTO


To calculate these presence areas, the system may use any number of analyses including an averaging of geographic locations based on location-aware mobile devices, signal strength of a given access point and surrounding building architecture, among other variables. Presence areas may be selected in a multi-pass process by filtering out potentials based on "popularity, stability, longevity, and freshness."

Loaded with data, the system can plot out connected mobile devices in cells 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.

One way a mobile device can calculate its location is by detecting multiple presence areas and averaging distance from those close by, while discarding data from "outliers" farthest away from a given position. Following processing, the device can then display its average location on a mapping app.

Alternatively, an access point can send position information about other access points nearby, including only those that are within a mobile device's area of interest. This method of filtering is also used to approximate margin of error, which is denoted by a radius or radii extending from a focal point within a presence area.

In addition, Apple's method accounts for three-dimensional space by taking into consideration altitude data from devices supporting such GPS metrics.


From left: Multi-pass analysis, multi-pass analysis with outlier, and 3D positioning grid.


Tuesday's patent is similar to technology created by "indoor GPS" firm WifiSLAM, which Apple purchased in March 2013 for about $20 million. WifiSLAM's system relies largely on Wi-Fi signals to accurately position mobile devices while indoors and does not require GPS to operate.

Apple's patent for a Wi-Fi-based positioning system was first filed for in 2010 and credits Ronald K. Huang as its inventor.
post #2 of 17
I'm sure there probably is something specific in the implementation that is a little different but if I'm not mistaken companies like Skyhook Wireless have been working on WiFi positioning for years (Google too btw) and already have it on the market/use it.
So the idea certainly isn't new, I wonder in which details this patent differs....
(Oh and before anyone says it was filed in 2010, Skyhook Wireless has been doing this since 2003, just to clear that up in advance)
Edited by Chipsy - 4/15/14 at 4:20am
post #3 of 17
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post #4 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chipsy View Post

I'm sure there probably is something specific in the implementation that is a little different but if I'm not mistaken companies like Skyhook Wireless have been working on WiFi positioning for years (Google too btw) and already have it on the market/use it.
So the idea certainly isn't new, I wonder in which details this patent differs....
(Oh and before anyone says it was filed in 2010, Skyhook Wireless has been doing this since 2003, just to clear that up in advance)

According to Apple's patent "WiFi and WiMax networks are used as examples. Other wireless technology (e.g., cellular network) can also be employed. Accordingly, other implementations are within the scope of the following claims". Furthermore "These instructions need not be implemented as separate software programs, procedures, or modules.... can include additional instructions or fewer instructions.... various functions of the mobile device can be implemented in hardware and/or in software."

Is there any question why companies can independently develop a technology with a specific implementation they believe is unique yet still find themselves in the cross-hairs of a patent infringement suit based on some broad/vague claim? Broad and indefinite description serve to scare inventors working on similar technology away (it's already patented in every logical way) and/or insure the patent holder has a possible claim against someone with a different way of addressing (!) the same need.

That's an inherent problem for something that exists only in a description. It then becomes a issue of translation. To be clear I'm not singling out Apple, this was only a convenient example. They're simply playing the game the way other software patentees play it. Apple themselves get burned by the same whimsy the USPTO allows from other patentees, and caught up in the same claim construction games that others deal with when it heads to court over something they had no idea was supposedly patented.
Edited by Gatorguy - 4/15/14 at 5:24am
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post #5 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chipsy View Post

I'm sure there probably is something specific in the implementation that is a little different...

Yep. If you read the patent it'll explain it.

post #6 of 17
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Originally Posted by chabig View Post

Yep. If you read the patent it'll explain it.
Haven't had the time to completely read the patent yet, if it explains it then I'll be sure to take a look later on. It was just based on the explanation of AppleInsider I was unable to identify the difference in implementation (although I knew there must be one, even if ever so slightly, else it wouldn't be granted).
post #7 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chipsy View Post


Haven't had the time to completely read the patent yet, if it explains it then I'll be sure to take a look later on. It was just based on the explanation of AppleInsider I was unable to identify the difference in implementation (although I knew there must be one, even if ever so slightly, else it wouldn't be granted).

That's my thinking too. If there were no difference, the patent application would have no chance. I hadn't had my coffee yet this morning, so I apologize for the shitty comment. I haven't read the patent app yet either.

post #8 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by chabig View Post

I hadn't had my coffee yet this morning, so I apologize for the shitty comment.

No problem 1smile.gif.
post #9 of 17
Imagine what they could do if WiFi hotspots contained hardware to determine precise range and direction of users in the mesh. The current invention is a bit of a hack that uses current WiFi hardware. Future hardware could contain time of flight technology for much more precise measurements leading to centimeter or even millimeter location precision. There are many cool uses for this type of precision including directed audio, beamed data, lights that show you the way in the dark and video that follows you as you move.
post #10 of 17
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Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

[^ VIDEO]

Ha! Street View turns out to be prior art...from 1907¡
post #11 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chipsy View Post

...Skyhook Wireless has been doing this since 2003...

Skyhook drove cars around the country equipped with WiFi and GPS.

When the vehicle would drive by a WiFi hotspot, it would record the unique ID of the base station and the vehicle's current GPS coordinates.

This allowed a device with WiFi but no GPS(first iPhone) to determine it's approximate location by looking up the base station's unique ID in Skyhook's database.  Skyhook would send back the GPS coordinates if the base station was in it's database.

 

Apple/WiFi-Slam has created an indoor mapping and positioning system that done primarily by triangulation of WiFi signals.

Using WiFi-Slam's tech you can create a "map" of a building just by walking around with a iPhone.

Once the initial map is created, it can then be used to very accurately determine the location of any iPhone in that building.

post #12 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by GrangerFX View Post

Imagine what they could do if WiFi hotspots contained hardware to determine precise range and direction of users in the mesh. The current invention is a bit of a hack that uses current WiFi hardware. Future hardware could contain time of flight technology for much more precise measurements leading to centimeter or even millimeter location precision. There are many cool uses for this type of precision including directed audio, beamed data, lights that show you the way in the dark and video that follows you as you move.

I wish Apple would put more effort into making their Airport base stations more affordable/practical.

post #13 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Mozzarella View Post
 

Skyhook drove cars around the country equipped with WiFi and GPS.

When the vehicle would drive by a WiFi hotspot, it would record the unique ID of the base station and the vehicle's current GPS coordinates.

This allowed a device with WiFi but no GPS(first iPhone) to determine it's approximate location by looking up the base station's unique ID in Skyhook's database.  Skyhook would send back the GPS coordinates if the base station was in it's database.

 

Apple/WiFi-Slam has created an indoor mapping and positioning system that done primarily by triangulation of WiFi signals.

Using WiFi-Slam's tech you can create a "map" of a building just by walking around with a iPhone.

Once the initial map is created, it can then be used to very accurately determine the location of any iPhone in that building.


Skyhook and Google's tech can also use WiFi triangulation for indoor navigation. But if I get this right both use WiFi triangulation but WiFi-Slam's tech doesn't need to predetermine the location of the WiFi spots?

Edit: WiFi-Slam's tech also uses a location database of WiFi access points. Oh well I guess the difference will be in the details :).


Edited by Chipsy - 4/15/14 at 3:09pm
post #14 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chipsy View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Mozzarella View Post

 
Skyhook drove cars around the country equipped with WiFi and GPS.
When the vehicle would drive by a WiFi hotspot, it would record the unique ID of the base station and the vehicle's current GPS coordinates.
This allowed a device with WiFi but no GPS(first iPhone) to determine it's approximate location by looking up the base station's unique ID in Skyhook's database.  Skyhook would send back the GPS coordinates if the base station was in it's database.

Apple/WiFi-Slam has created an indoor mapping and positioning system that done primarily by triangulation of WiFi signals.
Using WiFi-Slam's tech you can create a "map" of a building just by walking around with a iPhone.
Once the initial map is created, it can then be used to very accurately determine the location of any iPhone in that building.


Skyhook and Google's tech can also use WiFi triangulation for indoor navigation. But if I get this right both use WiFi triangulation but WiFi-Slam's tech doesn't need to predetermine the location of the WiFi spots?
Edit: WiFi-Slam's tech also uses a location database of WiFi access points. Oh well I guess the difference will be in the details 1smile.gif.

It's a nit -- but the process is called trilateration not triangulation:
Quote:
Trilateration
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In geometry, trilateration is the process of determining absolute or relative locations of points by measurement of distances, using the geometry of circles, spheres or triangles.[1][2][3][4] In addition to its interest as a geometric problem, trilateration does have practical applications in surveying and navigation, including global positioning systems (GPS). In contrast to triangulation, it does not involve the measurement of angles.

In two-dimensional geometry, it is known that if a point lies on two circles, then the circle centers and the two radii provide sufficient information to narrow the possible locations down to two. Additional information may narrow the possibilities down to one unique location.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trilateration


As I understand it, a simple explanation of the way WiFiSLAM works is that it creates an unique fingerprint of WiFi (and other electronic noise) at given locations -- the noise fingerprint identifies the location, not the geolocation of the cell towers.
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- Michael Lille -
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"...The calm is on the water and part of us would linger by the shore, For ships are safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for."
- Michael Lille -
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post #15 of 17

I browsed the patent and cannot see the difference with wifi fingerprinting, which is a pretty old and tried technology. Anyone have a clue ?

post #16 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chipsy View Post


Skyhook and Google's tech can also use WiFi triangulation for indoor navigation.

Google also has this absolutely unique and inventive indoor mapping solution waiting in the wings. I'll be quite surprised if there's even any cites of prior art. 1bugeye.gif
http://www.freshpatents.com/-dt20140320ptan20140078150.php
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post #17 of 17
Apple must already be doing this on the iphone.

I used this more precise location twice last week to find my wife when shopping. I turned on find friends, and it showed me her precise location in the shopping mall. Unfortunately no map of the mall, but I could orient myself and walk towards her and when our dots aligned I'd found her.

Couldn't tell which floor though. Will be great as this improves!
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