Logistics start-up Weft has signed a deal with Skyhook Wireless to integrate its indoor location tracking technology into its asset tracking hardware. The deal enables Weft to help its clients track the assets inside retail, grocery, and pharmacy stores, Skyhook explained. It raises interesting questions for CIOs about the potential for indoor location tracking technology in their own companies.
For a long time, it was difficult to track the position of a physical item inside a building. GPS technologies typically need line-of -sight access to several satellites to pinpoint positions, and triangulation via cell towers can often be energy intensive.
Skyhook, formed 11 years ago, works using existing Wi-Fi access points to triangulate locations without using too much energy on a device. The company became famous for embedding its tracking technology into Apple’s original iPhone.
Skyhook originally invested in a large network of drivers, who drove around the world’s roads, automatically documenting local Wi-Fi access points.
“We did originally drive to find the Wi-Fi networks, but now it’s a self-healing network, based on the fact that we handle billions of location requests,” explained Mike Schneider, director of marketing for Skyhook Wireless. “We know where a beacon moves because we know where it is in relation to other beacons. If it moves, we quarantine it until we work out where it is.”
Schneider sees plenty of opportunities for companies to use indoor positioning technologies to help their business.
“One of the things that especially large organizations are very keen on is asset management,” he said. “We’ve done a bunch of things with various degrees of asset management, from mobile phones and computers and servers to offender tracking devices. That kind of thing, where they have this ability to know where each of their assets in and when it as moved is big in and of itself.”
The general precision location technology can get down to around 20 metres, he said, although companies have options to increase the level of indoor tracking precision if they’d like. For example, the firm partners with companies that have adopted Apple’s iBeacon standard.
The technology works on a different basis, using electronic beacons installed within buildings that can track the presence of mobile devices nearby. Retailers and malls are experimenting with the technology to better track the movement of customers throughout stores and to potentially offer them deals and other information at opportune moments.
There are other evolving solutions, too. IndoorAtlas uses the Earth’s magnetic field to track mobile devices as they move around indoors. It offers a web tool to create venues and add floor plans, collecting magnetic field map data from within the building. One of its advantages is that it needs no extraneous hardware, the company claims.
Other standards are also on the way. 802.11mc and 802.11k/u, two Wi-Fi communications standards currently under development by the IEEE, could increase accuracy to 10 feet 90 per cent of the time, according to FCC filings.
At the 2015 Mobile World Congress, Intel demonstrated Wi-Fi chips that would include 802.11mc location tracking directly on the silicon, enabling phones to track their location indoors with even lower power drains.