IndoorAtlas, a Finland-based indoor location and positioning technology startup, snagged a seed-round investment of about $640,000 from Dallas-based Mobility Ventures to help develop its vision of using magnetic anomalies inside buildings and smartphones to accurately pinpoint positions.
IndoorAtlas began last year as a spin-off from the University of Oulu, Finland. According to a white paper from the company, its location technology is partly inspired by creatures such as spiny lobsters, which use local anomalies in the earth's magnetic field "not only for orientation detection but also for true navigation."
The company contends that modern buildings with reinforced concrete and steel structures also possess unique, spatially varying ambient magnetic fields that can be used for positioning. "In IndoorAtlas' location technology, anomalies (fluctuations) of ambient magnetic fields are utilized in indoor positioning. This has been facilitated by modern smartphones and the rapid development of sensor technology," said the company.
Indoor Atlas' core technology is a software-only location system that requires a smartphone with built-in sensors. Among other things, the company claims its technology can radically improve navigation capabilities in environments where GPS and Wi-Fi systems are unavailable. The accuracy in IndoorAtlas' technology in modern buildings is said to range from 0.1 meter to 2 meters.
To enable positioning, an application uses the IndoorAtlas API to communicate with the company's cloud-based location service. "The API sends processed sensor data to the location service, which computes the current location estimate and delivers the estimate back to the application's event listener method through the API," said the company.
Roman Kikta, managing partner at Dallas-based Mobility Ventures, which participated in IndoorAtlas' seed round, called indoor positioning "the next frontier for location-based services, offering a plethora of diverse applications and the ability of providing rich contextual information about people and objects that can prove to be very valuable when combined with 'big data' kinds of analytics presenting enticing advertising and branding possibilities which could revolutionize retail marketing."
"Apart from by improving the ability to analyze customer behavior and influence it with quick calls to action to increase sales, universities could allow students to chart classrooms, hospitals could streamline the movement of patients and organizations & governments can track movement of people for convenience and safety purposes," said David Sym-Smith, partner, Mobility Ventures.
The indoor-location market is rapidly catching fire. Late last month, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) forked over a reported $20 million to acquire WifiSLAM, a two-year-old startup whose mobile apps use Wi-Fi signals to locate smartphones inside of buildings to an accuracy of 2.5 meters.
Apple has been racing to improve its mapping capabilities as it battles Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Google's Android OS in the marketplace. Google Maps for mobile added indoor mapping tools in late 2011, supplying contextual data helping users determine where they are within a building, which floor they're on and where they might wish to go next. Google already offers indoor mapping for locations such as airports, shopping malls, casinos, sports venues and even museums through its crowdsourced Indoor Maps project.
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