Monday, March 25, 2013

Intel buys GPS GNSS Chip Maker

Intel has just bought the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) business chip business unit of ST-Ericsson, a joint venture operated by STMicroelectronic, which supplies chips for GPS navigation systems and wireless phones. ST-Ericsson's GNSS product family includes personal handset receivers that interact with both the United States' GPS technology and Russia's GLONASS geo-location services. It is claimed that GPS + GLONASS satellites help refine position to the nearest centimeter accuracy, making location more accurate, especially in dense ‘urban canyon’ environments; Apple has started supporting GPS and GLONASS starting with the iPhone 4S.

The GPS unit will become part of Intel's mobile chip unit. This will help Intel compete a little more completely with Qualcomm, which has pretty strong GPS assets. ST-Ericsson's GPS-related intellectual property rights and engineers will add to Intel's already existing GPS technology and assets it already has, including the Xposys single chip receiver. The deal is expected to close in August.

According to ST-Ericsson officials, the market for such location technologies is continuing to grow who predict that, by 2014, four out of every five phones shipped will be location-aware. That kind of technology is particularly attractive to Intel, which is aggressively pushing its way into the booming mobile device space, particularly markets for smartphones and tablets. Most of these devices currently are powered by systems-on-a-chip that are designed by ARM and made by Samsung, Qualcomm, Nvidia and others.

Intel could be making a significant move into the mobile market with speculation that its chip will power the upcoming Samsung Galaxy 3 tablet.

It's not clear if Ericsson's Indoor Maps and Positioning platform is part of this deal, which provides developers with tools to create indoor maps and facilitate indoor positioning designed for Android OS and mobile phone networking. The Indoor Positioning system comprises Indoor Maps and Positioning platform, map studio, SDKs and positioning, all provided as a complete development framework.

ST Microelectronics is left with its MEMS unit, which has offered a cascade of new gyroscopes with 2 and 3 axes, making indoor navigation possible.

More details on each company in our report

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Apple Acquires Indoor GPS Technology, But What About Indoor Maps?

Apple has confirmed that it acquired WiFiSLAM on March 22.  IndoorLBS has been following and reporting on both companies in our market report. WiFiSLAM was a 5 person, two year old company.  WiFiSLAM uses existing wireless networks to allow smartphones to pinpoint its location to within 2.5m using WiFi signals already present in buildings, which is referred to as RF Fingerprinting or a WiFi site survey. In addition, the phone’s internal compass and accelerometer also play a role in determining its location. WiFiSLAM  envisioned the technology enabling step-by-step indoor navigation, product-level retail customer engagement, and social networking based on proximity.

This indoor location technology will most likely end up in Apple Maps. But wait, how will Apple do RF Fingerprinting without having indoor maps of venues?! Existing indoor WiFi location positioning systems require the system to have the building floorplan in place before RF Fingerpriting site surveying can take place. However, WiFiSLAM technology is next-gen! WiFiSLAM not only maps out the RF Fingerprint, but also the floorplan (or pathways) too! SLAM refers to "Eliminating the site survey step" that is required by most existing indoor WiFi localization systems. This approach beats Google at its own game! Apple will map out the indoor world using crowd-sourcing at a much higher level than Google; Instead of needing to collect building floorplans first in order to record RF Fingerprints, Apple will use millions of iPhone users to map out pathways people walk inside buildings and tie that with the RF Fingerprinting.  It's to be seen if Apple can really map out all indoor spaces (and keep them updated) using this method that depends on people actually walking through all the hallways, staircases, etc in a building.   Watch this video starting at 30min 33secs:

It will be also interesting to see when Apple will offer this indoor location API to developers, similar to what it has done with its Apple Maps API and existing Location APIs.

WiFiSLAM founders included Joseph Huang, Jessica Tsoong, Darin Tay, Dave Millman.  WiFiSLAM investors included Sky Dayton, Naval Ravikant, Felix Shpilman, Don Dodge, Kevin Talbot.  Congrats to all!