Accurate positioning indoors and across dense urban environments is the ultimate heart's desire for any location-based services (LBS) company, and a new antenna design undergoing U.S. Air Force testing appears to hold promise for providing more reliable tracking in areas, including the inside of buildings, where GPS signals are less reliable.
Locata demonstrates its prototype VRay antenna in this video.
The technology being tested is based on Canberra, Australia-based Locata's patented VRay flexible switching antenna array.
The company says its basketball-size antenna can recognize and ignore multipath GPS signals. That capability is essential in cities and within buildings, where signals from GPS satellites end up bouncing all over the place, confusing the GPS receivers whose positioning capabilities are dependent upon accurate readings regarding the time taken for signals to arrive from the satellites.
Researchers at the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology hope to eventually adapt the initial antenna prototypes to fit within the frame of a Humvee or aircraft or even be built into helmets. As with much military technology, this tracking approach could eventually be applied to consumer applications.
"The requirements of the military are now converging with the requirements of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)," Nunzio Gambale, cofounder and CEO of Locata, told the MIT Technology Review. "Everyone wants to use these location-tracking devices indoors and in urban areas where people say GPS will never work."
However, Todd Humphreys, professor at the University of Texas geopositioning lab, cautioned that Locata's current antenna design requires a large receiver, limiting its use to military applications for now.
Locata's initial proof-of-concept prototype, designed for use on automated industrial and warehouse equipment such as forklifts, produces more than 2.5 million individually steered beams per second as it switches through 80 elements every 100 microseconds. This rapid switching of individual elements enables the receiver to sense both the strength and direction of incoming signals, comparing reception across different areas of the antenna. All of the elements connect to one radio, rather than multiple radios, for simpler signal processing.
Numerous companies are touting technologies aimed at going beyond outdoor GPS positioning and tracking to bring LBS inside of buildings. Companies offering indoor-positioning products include Cisco, which is working with Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) to leverage the latter's IZat platform. IZat will employ Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) Here venue maps to improve indoor positioning for location-based apps. Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung spearheaded formation of the In-Location Alliance in mid 2012.
Among the numerous other companies, big and small, that are getting in on the indoor LBS action are Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Aruba Networks, Euclid, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), IndoorAtlas, iSign, Ruckus Wireless, Walkbase and Wifarer.
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