The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Apple has acquired WiFiSlam, an indoor GPS startup that enables a smartphone to pinpoint its location — along with that of your friends — in realtime up to 2.5 meters in accuracy.
The two-year-old startup has developed ways for mobile apps to detect a phone user’s location in a building using Wi-Fi signals. It has been offering the technology to application developers for indoor mapping and new types of retail and social networking apps. The company has a handful of employees, and its co-founders include former Google software engineering intern Joseph Huang.
WiFiSlam seems to be part of Apple’s continued plan to build up its location capabilities, and is likely a sign that indoor GPS is just starting to get hot. Apple has acquired companies like C3 Technologies and Poly9 in recent years to do just that.
For its part, WiFiSlam says that it wants to “engage with users at the scale that personal interaction actually takes place” and foresees its future use cases as “step-by-step indoor navigation to product-level retail customer engagement, to proximity-based social networking.”
Said another way, Google has been expanding its mapping technologies to the point where Street View is now practically ubiquitous, and the latter versions of its Maps APIs now allow developers to utilize not only its outdoor mapping functionality but indoor as well. (Gogobot is just one example, which uses it to let people see the insides of hotels they’re vetting for a business trip or vacation, etc.) Apple has decided to go toe-to-toe with Google in the maps game, for reasons that are probably transparent, understandable but still seem ridiculous after the botched release of Apple Maps.
But no matter what the tech, GPS is still spotty when it comes to the indoors. Many have tried and are playing this game, so it will be interesting to learn why Apple chose this young company over others, but WiFiSlam does seem to have accuracy working in its favor.
Less than two years old, WiFiSlam combines the fingerprint of proximate WiFi networks with information taken from your smartphone via compass and accelerometer. As described by MIT Tech Review when its tech first appeared, to pinpoint a device’s location WiFiSlam, “analyzes the signal strengths and unique IDS of all the WiFi networks around it,” which is then “matched against a reference data set for the area either accessed over the Internet or stored on the device … The estimate of location can be sharpened if a gadget moves slightly, because WiFiSLAM’s algorithms can gather multiple fingerprints. Compass data and accelerometer signals capturing a person’s footsteps are also used to refine the accuracy of subsequent location fixes as a person moves around.”
Thus, this technology could help Apple better map the indoors, improving the quality of iOS maps and beyond, and one can imagine a whole host of other uses. Mostly WiFiSlam designed their technology with the hopes of letting users more accurately triangulate their own positions indoors, with Google Maps-style apps, much the same way Google and Skyhook do for outdoors mapping.
Of course, as triangulation technology becomes increasingly accurate, especially indoor, there are some appealing use cases — and many more that are far from appealing. But, the idea was, instead of an app tracking where you are based on your proximity to other objects or networks, WiFiSlam allows you to track your own location based on the things around you by opening an app — if that makes sense.
A graduate of StartX, Stanford’s student accelerator, WiFiSlam has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investors like AngelList’s Naval Ravikant, Google’s Don Dodge and Start Fund’s Felix Shipman — to name a few.