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These 4 Trends in Location Technology Will Change How We Navigate

On June 25, Apple Insider reported that Apple had filed patents for two new technologies designed to improve their products’ location tracking services. The first is a patent that would expand the capabilities of the Find My Friends App, adding the ability for users to share precise information with friends and family, as well as track routes to meet each other. The second patent allows an iPhone user inside a building to find another device or user in the building. These patents connect to four larger trends at the forefront of mobile location technology, which ultimately come down to increased accuracy.

1. Beyond GPS: New Technologies in Location

What we offhandedly refer to as GPS is technically a network of 25 military satellites that our smart devices communicate with to assign a location to an accuracy of about 5 meters. Other satellite systems exist, and devices are increasingly equipped to interact with them. The Russian version of GPS is called GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System), and also has about 25 satellites. The European Union’s Galileo system has a reputation of being much more accurate at altitude, but is not as comprehensive.

Satellite systems are powerful, and excellent for large-scale navigation, but they do not offer fine-grained navigation for dense urban environments. But, as any smartphone user knows, GPS drains batteries, and can be disturbed by trees, clouds, and tall buildings. It also doesn’t work indoors.

Wi-Fi location is the next iteration of location technology. Techradar explains this technology is due to vast databases that cross-reference Wi-Fi network data with geographical location, so smartphones can assess nearby networks, and cross reference the names with where they are on a map. But because smartphones’ Wi-Fi chips are low-powered sensors, this technology is not very robust or accurate.

Wi-Fi location is especially promising for indoors, as more antennas can be added to create a stronger grid. Other technologies are also being suggested for indoor location including systems that map minor variations in steel structures, and those that track low frequency noise to triangulate location.

2. Indoor Location Based Technology

Indoor location technology can allow for more convenience, and greater connectivity between smartphone users—for example, at conferences, or for families and friends out shopping. But retailers are especially attuned to new the marketing opportunities this technology offers.

A conference recently held in New York City was focused on these opportunities. Place 2015: The Business of Location, aimed to show attendees how indoor location technologies will change the way that retailers, venue owners, manufacturers, and brands think about operations, marketing and the customer experience. Topics included discussions of technology, engagement of customers, privacy issues, and future trends for third-party retail mobile applications. The conference was sponsored by firms capitalizing on retailers’ interest in the subject, including Indoor Atlas and Aisle 411.

3. Venturing Outdoors

Increasingly sensitive location-based technology is also being used for marketing outside of the mall. The newest approach for location tracking is a conglomeration of GPS, Wi-Fi, and magnetic location systems, which layer upon each other for very accurate results.

D.C.-based startup SocialRadar is on the forefront of this technology, offering a service called LocationKit that looks to replace Apple and Google location services, using signals from the device, local context, and environmental conditions. An article in DCInno explains that the technology can pinpoint a location to within 2 meters, and uses less than 1 percent of the battery every hour. The service is being marketed to other developers whose apps use location services.

The marketing aspect is due to LocationKit’s ability to recognize venues, which can then be passed on to customers—for example, customers who track a running route with an app using LocationKit, could be alerted to businesses along that route while using the app.

4. Opportunities for Increased Location Services          

Many of the startups utilizing increased location services are in the retail market due to high demand—in a time of increased internet commerce, brick and mortar stores are using technology to increase customer experience, engagement and sales. But opportunities exist for this technology to be used in other venues.

Indoor location systems could improve building efficiency. Home and office lighting, heating, and cooling could be made more efficient through interaction with inhabitants’ devices. Similarly, city transportation systems accuracy could be increased, especially underground systems that are currently underserved by satellite systems.

Emily Brown

Emily works in urban planning, helping cities to become more competitive. She was named as one of 40 under 40 economic developers, and has taken part in a successful Kickstarter…