Locata wants to solve indoor location problems by replacing GPS with TimeLoc

An Australian company wants to solve the problem encountered when trying to locate people indoors -- and it wants to use a sort of ground-based replica of the GPS system to do so. First, however, it has some more work to do.

Locata wants to deploy transmitters like this to find people indoors.

Even though they've been at it for the past 17 years, Locata founders David Small and Nunzio Gambale are still trying to get their technology in front of the major players that can use it. According to CEO Gambale, it's been a challenge getting people to believe what they've invented. When they initially tried to raise funding back in the early 2000s timeframe, "everyone said we were out of our minds," he told FierceWirelessTech.

Now, however, they can report progress – and share it publicly. Last week, the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) revealed that over the last nine months, it has been testing and demonstrating Locata's TimeLoc wireless network synchronization technology across urban areas of Washington, D.C.

In its report, the USNO showed TimeLoc maintaining synchronization between widely dispersed Locata nodes at picosecond levels. For scale, one picosecond is to a second as one second is to 31,710 years, the company points out. That's about six orders or magnitude (1 million times) better than the current microsecond-level IEEE industry standard for 4G cell networks.

Locata says it has developed new radio-location technology that gives precise positioning in many environments where GPS is either marginal or unavailable for modern applications. A network of terrestrially-based LocataLite transceivers transmit well-synchronized signals, which creates a ground-based local replica of GPS. Such signals form a positioning network called a LocataNet that operates in combination with GPS or operates totally independent of GPS. It's the type of technology that wireless operators could use to improve their ability to find wireless callers inside buildings, either in emergency situations or for other applications.

"The synchronization and timing capability that we have is unsurpassed for ease of use and deployment," Gambale said. The technology is already being used by miners who put transmitters on equipment and "it just works," which is a testament to the engineering team. The technology applies to a plethora of things, including cell phones, he said.

The company wants to license its technology to others and let them take it out to their users, similar to an "Intel inside" approach.

"Our transmitters basically agree on what the time is," he said. "The industry, the world should be paying really close attention when I can tell you that we can do centimeters and picoseconds without satellites or atomic clocks. To me, that's like telling you I can give you a car without needing a steering wheel, an engine or wheels. Something seriously important has changed."

What about Google's moonshot division and other endeavors that try to do the impossible – are those types of things making it easier for people to understand? "Our moon shot is so far" beyond a normal one, he said. "We're the only ones on earth that can do this. We've invented a completely new technology from scratch. It's more like a Pluto shot if you ask me."

The vision is for a LocaLite transmitter on every cell tower in Manhattan, and "I will tell you which chair you're sitting in in a skyscraper," he said. The fundamentals of all of that technology are in place now, he added. "The core functionality is all there," he said.

The first USNO trials demonstrated TimeLoc's relative picosecond-level synchronization of independent Locata networks. The next step is to demonstrate how well a LocataNet can deliver absolute time transfer of the USNO's Master Clock time to any other network node across areas of Washington, D.C.

For more:
- see this IEEE Spectrum article
- see this release
- see this USNO paper

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