Of all of Google (GOOGL)’s bleeding edge projects and technologies–say cars that drive themselves or the Internet on your goddam face–there’s only one Marissa Mayer described as futuristic during a recent Q&A at the 92nd Street Y: Indoor positioning systems. Google has already implemented the technology, which lets you locate yourself inside a building, on Google Maps for Android at Macy’s flagship store (using the building’s floor plan and Wifi readings) and all the transit stations in Tokyo.
“Even though I helped build it,” Ms. Mayer told the crowd, “It’s like scifi!”
Today Extreme Tech delves into the science and application of an Indoor Positioning System (IPS). “Believe it or not, we’re very nearly already there,” says the blog, citing a new chip released by Broadcom called BCM4752 that supports IPS and will be coming soon to smartphones.
Because the science is new, there’s no standardization yet. Google uses Wifi and 2D floor plans. Nokia, on the other hand, uses Bluetooth and 3D models. Acoustic analysis and infrared signals are also being tested. Neither method is really reliable on its own, but the Broadcom chip is a leap forward:
The Broadcom chip supports IPS through WiFi, Bluetooth, and even NFC. More importantly, though, the chip also ties in with other sensors, such as a phone’s gyroscope, magnetometer, accelerometer, and altimeter. Acting like a glorified pedometer, this Broadcom chip could almost track your movements without wireless network triangulation. It simply has to take note of your entry point (via GPS), and then count your steps (accelerometer), direction (gyroscope), and altitude (altimeter).
Before George Orwell starts rolling in his grave, it’s worth noting that like GPS, IPS isn’t necessarily sending exactly where you are at every single moment to third parties. “IPS can be entirely local to your smartphone (or other portable navigation device). IPS, like GPS, can establish a location fix completely passively.”
Adoption is still a ways off. First the system needs to be built up, which will likely start in tourist hot spots, says Extreme Tech, allowing for “ample time to stage a rebellion.”