The dream of indoor location sensing has always been just that – a dream. The difficulty of Wi-Fi tracking and other technologies has made it hard for anyone – from businesses to regular users – to figure out where they were in a venue. But the folks at Estimote, a Polish beacon company, may have just cracked the code.
Using something they’re calling “Nearables,” as well as standard Beacon technology, the company is now able to track people and objects in a building. What does this mean?
First, you won’t be able to be tracked without your permission but once you’re on the network you’ll be able to see where you are on a map, identify objects anywhere in a venue, and even see where your friends and co-workers are anywhere in the building. Think of Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map without the ability to track cats (unless you stick a nearable to them).
The system works by triangulating your device’s location via three or more beacons. You can try out the new indoor location app here and read a bit more about it here. Recently the company announced a partnership with Target that will bring indoor location to stores over the next few years.
From the blog post:
How do we know a nearable’s position, you ask? This is where the magic of Estimote Cloud kicks in: any time a user of the Indoor Location app enters range of a sticker with the app in the foreground (background mode coming), that nearable’s position is saved in the cloud. It works even if the nearable is private. In this case it won’t be visible for anyone except the owner, but everyone will be still be passively updating its location.
Adds Estimote co-founder Steve Cheney: “We built search for the physical world. You can literally search for objects tagged with nearables – they will be highlighted on a map with the relevant location, as long as the location itself is either public or belongs to you. This works like magic: any time a user of the Indoor Location app (in the future any app with our SDK) enters range of a sticker with the app its position is saved in the cloud. Even private nearables can still passively update their location,” he said.
“Our main message today is that Estimote is not a beacon company…We’re a full stack location intelligence platform and have successively brought together many different products – hardware, cloud software, device SDKs and data science – to create a developer-friendly platform for location intelligence and context.”
There are a number of competing systems to this including attempts by Apple and Google to improve indoor positioning. It’s a hard problem to solve. The goal, ultimately, is to hide beacon technology in almost everything.
As the technology gets smaller the company expects that the data points – and hence the location data – will be far more precise. By tracking items in a store and the shoppers you can see where people linger, where they rush by, and what exactly they’re thinking when they leave a cold pack of hot dogs in the cookie aisle. That last part, I suspect, will require more technology than humankind possesses.