The next HomeKit could have very precise geofencing, accurate to within feet

Posted:
in iOS
HomeKit could be more responsive to a user's needs depending on where they are in a future update, with Apple considering the possibility of adding hyper-local position tracking to the smart home platform with an accuracy of just feet to suggest what items a user wants to control based on their location in the home.

HomeKit enables users to control multiple devices from their iPhone or iPad
HomeKit enables users to control multiple devices from their iPhone or iPad


Apple's Home app is the central focal point of a user's HomeKit network, with it used to control automation functions and to remotely change settings and modes on a wide variety of compatible network-connected devices. It is a fairly straightforward system once it is set up, and could even be managed from the compact screen of an Apple Watch if required.

Home is able to divide up devices in a Smart Home into "Rooms," giving users a quick and easy way to sort through their connected elements, and to trigger multiple items as a group. While using Rooms is simple, Apple believes the concept could be widened further.

In a patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday titled "Using in-home location awareness," Apple suggests a future where users could be provided more items to control in the Home app, with it automatically populating items on the screen depending on the mobile device's physical location, and without needing to select a specific room.

An example illustration from the patent application showing additional items appearing in the Home app.
An example illustration from the patent application showing additional items appearing in the Home app.


Apple notes that users perform the same or repeated actions with devices while in a particular location, such as closing the garage door from the kitchen when they return home, or changing the temperature on a thermometer while in the living room. However, since an item like a garage door wouldn't necessarily be considered part of a kitchen, it may not be included within a designated kitchen "room."

To solve this, the patent application suggests determining the physical location of the controlling device, and presenting items that are typically interacted with by the user while in that particular position.

The method involves the collection of data relating to various signals detected when users perform actions, such as MAC addresses of wirelessly-networked devices, Bluetooth device addresses and that device's signal strength, IP addresses, universally unique identifiers (UUID) and truncated UUIDs.

A flowchart showing how HomeKit could determine if an accessory should be displayed (left), and graphs showing how location clusters can be determined based on signal strength and usage (right)
A flowchart showing how HomeKit could determine if an accessory should be displayed (left), and graphs showing how location clusters can be determined based on signal strength and usage (right)


In effect, by knowing what items it can sense and the signal strength, the mobile device can determine physically where it is within a home, and in turn which room it is located within. If the mobile device knows it is within range of accessories in a general location, it could also assume the user is in a usual place for specific interactions, if they have previously been performed in that area.

Once it detects the user is in a specific place, the Home app could then automatically offer up control of the usually-controlled items to the user.

The decision to provide more immediate access to certain device controls could also be influenced by other elements, such as if the user is near to a location rather than within it. Light sensors, temperature sensors, and weather sensing could also play a part in whether or not to offer controls, such as the system only automatically offering control of external lights if a light sensor says it's dark, or the thermostat could be offered up if a temperature sensor says it's cold.

As with other patents and applications, the publication of such filings is not a guarantee that the concepts described will make an appearance in future products or services, but do indicate where has recently put effort into research and development.

In this case, since Apple has the Home app already in existence, and does not require the need for additional hardware, it is entirely plausible for the features in the patent application becoming a reality in a future update.

HomeKit already includes support for geofencing, which can enable actions to be performed when a user is within or out of range of the home. For iOS 11, multi-person geofencing was introduced, allowing for conditional triggers to be applied if part or an entire group is out of the home, such as turning off all lights if the house is detected as empty.

It is also logical that, if Apple were able to implement location tracking in a home, it could also feasibly add hyper-local geofencing at the same time. This could take the form of lights turning on automatically when a user is in a particular room, or turning off fans or other devices if the user moves to a different floor.

One of the more recent changes made to HomeKit is the introduction of support for Siri Shortcuts, which allows users to enable various HomeKit routines via a custom Siri command.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 14
    I have been trying for years to use geofencing for reminders when I get home. Unfortunately, I live on the eleventh floor, so my reminders go off when I approach the lobby and are mostly forgotten seven minutes later. I've wasted a bit of time with Siri Reminders and iBeacons but not gotten anywhere. Would love to see this...
    bonoboblostkiwiwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 14
    Highly skeptical -- not that Apple couldn't pull this off, but because I think that this approach will be sooner obviated by Apple AR glasses.

    Why go through the very heavy lifting of signals analysis, etc. when AR glasses will enable a User to just look at a device and say, "Turn that on"?
  • Reply 3 of 14
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,924member
    As a start, I would love to see current geofencing for more than one user. So, for example, the thermostat wouldn't adjust until both my wife and I left for work. Not just me.

  • Reply 4 of 14
    sirozhasirozha Posts: 584member
    mike1 said:
    As a start, I would love to see current geofencing for more than one user. So, for example, the thermostat wouldn't adjust until both my wife and I left for work. Not just me.

    It’s already available. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 14
    sirozha said:
    mike1 said:
    As a start, I would love to see current geofencing for more than one user. So, for example, the thermostat wouldn't adjust until both my wife and I left for work. Not just me.

    It’s already available. 
    Yup, that’s how my Honeywell Thermostats work. Of course it has to be set up on all devices you want to use Geofencing on. You can also set the geofence distance on a map. I usually turn on the heat/AC when I am 5 miles away so it has time to start warming up/cooling down. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 14
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,272member
    Are we really only getting into feet for geofencing, and not inches or cm?
  • Reply 7 of 14
    Highly skeptical -- not that Apple couldn't pull this off, but because I think that this approach will be sooner obviated by Apple AR glasses.

    Why go through the very heavy lifting of signals analysis, etc. when AR glasses will enable a User to just look at a device and say, "Turn that on"?
    I have zero intention of wearing a pair of glasses in my home so that I can give verbal commands to turn on lights.
  • Reply 8 of 14

    mike1 said:
    As a start, I would love to see current geofencing for more than one user. So, for example, the thermostat wouldn't adjust until both my wife and I left for work. Not just me.

    Vendors can probably do this now, Nest does.
  • Reply 9 of 14
    docno42docno42 Posts: 3,326member
    Vendors can probably do this now, Nest does.
    Not very well from what I see in their support forums...
  • Reply 10 of 14
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,520unconfirmed, member
    Wow Apple is finally using this tech after years of owning it. Thought they would use it for better GPS/traveling but they came up with a great idea here.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 14
    sirozhasirozha Posts: 584member
    wwchris said:
    sirozha said:
    mike1 said:
    As a start, I would love to see current geofencing for more than one user. So, for example, the thermostat wouldn't adjust until both my wife and I left for work. Not just me.

    It’s already available. 
    Yup, that’s how my Honeywell Thermostats work. Of course it has to be set up on all devices you want to use Geofencing on. You can also set the geofence distance on a map. I usually turn on the heat/AC when I am 5 miles away so it has time to start warming up/cooling down. 
    I don't even bother with geofencing. My ecobee3 thermostats can sense if anyone is in a house and change the temperature settings based on that. Works much better than geofencing. This is especially useful if you have more than one thermostat because in my case, if everyone is downstairs, the upstairs thermostat changes its presets if it doesn't detect presence for a certain amount of time. Because I have remote sensors in every room, this behavior is very accurate. 

    Generally, the amount of 'smarts' in ecobee thermostats dramatically exceeds the capabilities of HomeKit, so the only feature I use with HomeKit for ecobee thermostats is motion sensors' notifications that reach me via HomeKit on my Apple Watch/iPhone/MacBook. For everything else related to thermostat, I use the native ecobee feature, as HomeKit features are very rudimentary compared to ecobee features. 
    edited January 24
  • Reply 12 of 14
    This would be a pretty big differentiator from Alexa/Google home platforms. Especially if the local geolocating constantly happened on your apple watch or iPhone and you could trigger specific actions to automatically happen whenever you entered or left a particular room (I know that's not exactly what this patent is, but it's very similar).
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 14
    Highly skeptical -- not that Apple couldn't pull this off, but because I think that this approach will be sooner obviated by Apple AR glasses.

    Why go through the very heavy lifting of signals analysis, etc. when AR glasses will enable a User to just look at a device and say, "Turn that on"?
    I have zero intention of wearing a pair of glasses in my home so that I can give verbal commands to turn on lights.
    Cool, never said you did.

    Not only does n=1, that's -- duh -- not all that an Apple AR headset will do.

    Plus, it won't even need to be exclusively verbal: just walk into a dimly lit room, glasses identify which room they're in, query devices in room, turn them on automatically.
    edited January 24
  • Reply 14 of 14
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,157member
    If Apple were to develop a full scale HomeKit based home security system I believe it would be relatively straightforward to utilize security sensors in a cooperative way to provide location awareness inside structures, without requiring the user to be carrying a connected device. Ultimately, I fully expect Apple to be heavily invested in ambient intelligence for both home and business environments. At some point truly "smart homes" will know exactly where every person and high value asset in the environment is located at all times and adapt the environment to accommodate its residents. No more lost remotes! Seriously though, most of what we are seeing now are very tiny baby steps in the general direction of ambient intelligence. Whether Apple leads the way is the trillion dollar question. As long as Apple views devices rather than systems as being central to the ambient intelligence solution, they are going to proceed very cautiously and are at some risk of being disrupted by an unencumbered startup, or by someone like Amazon who views devices as being disposable and replaceable means to a system based solution. For Amazon, devices only have to be "good enough" as long as they contribute to the system. With Amazon, devices primarily serve systems and system services. Contrast this with Apple, where devices are king and systems primarily serve devices. The next major battleground for Apple is not going to be against other device-centric vendors like Samsung. The real battle will be device-centricity vs. system-centricity.  
    watto_cobra
Sign In or Register to comment.