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Indoor GPS finds its way to the UAE

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Possible applications include finding a parking spot through smartphones and directing people to items while shopping

February 23, 2014 9:58 by



Have you found yourself lost in a strange new city? While this might have once been a cause for panic, it’s hardly a concern for new-age travellers, who are armed with smartphones that can direct them back to their hotels by revealing the quickest route to take.

The use of global positioning system (GPS) has come a long way from being a ‘just for emergencies’ measure to something that is so ubiquitous that it will be a standard feature in all entry level handset models in 2014, according to a report by Berg Insight. Entitled GPS and Mobile Handsets, the report finds that, in the UAE, which leads in smartphone penetration globally, approximately three quarters of mobile subscribers are connected via GPS.

As finding one’s way handheld devices have become the norm, and the need to locate people and objects is driving demand for indoor GPS.  While it is still in an early stage of development, there is huge potential for the sector, says Anand S, senior director at global growth consultancy firm, Frost & Sullivan. “The fact that we humans spend the majority of our time indoors leads to the need for a system to help us locate and navigate. Another reason to explore this market can be the scope to develop a technology, which can be taken as the standard for indoor GPS globally. The absence of a standard technology in this space has led to the use of technologies developed for other purposes to deliver indoor GPS solutions.”

A new research carried out by Frost & Sullivan states that indoor GPS solutions are being used across multiple segments, such as retail, security, marketing and gaming. The report – published in January 2014 and entitled Breakthrough Innovations in Indoor GPS – predicts that the market will reach more than $3.5 million by 2018.

However, it’s still a tricky area to venture in, says Dr Mohammed Abdel-Hafez, associate professor of electrical engineering at the UAE University. “There are lots of issues regarding privacy and tracking people. Security is important – I need to know who I’m tracking and who’s tracking me.”

He points out that, when it comes to tracking goods and for the emergency services sector, there are many business opportunities. “There are a lot of possible applications – tracking of goods and people at shopping centres and at airports, tracking firefighters inside burning buildings or even in hospitals where it can be used to find the nearest equipment for patients.”

Switching over to indoor GPS technologies can make it easier for companies to track their goods. For example, he notes that Carrefour Dubai currently uses electric cables, and if someone takes a TV or a mobile phone the alarm rings. However, by using ultra wide-band WiFi, shops can track where their items are with an accuracy of centimetres.

Dr Abdel-Hafez points out that the infrastructure is currently in the UAE, where WiFi is present almost everywhere. It gives an accuracy of approximately two to three metres and can be used for most general applications, “but perhaps not when it comes to moving a robot inside a shopping mall, since you don’t want it bouncing off the walls,” he says.

“I’m expecting to see it in the next generation of smartphones, within two years’ time,” adds Dr Abdel-Hafez.

Smartphone operators have already picked up on the trend. In March 2013, Apple acquired the indoor GPS start-up WiFiSLAM for $20m, which has software that allows smartphone users to pinpoint their location or find their friends, with up to 2.5 metres in accuracy. Meanwhile, Google has also been expanding its mapping technologies.

“What’s really important is integrating these types of positioning systems with social networks,” says Dr Abdel-Hafez. “This would turn your mobile phone into a gateway for sensing conditions around you and updating your network to things that are happening around you.”

 

 



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