Australian startup focuses on indoor navigation

Australian startup focuses on indoor navigation


Navisens Localiser

Australia: Now that it’s easy to find your way in the real world with just a smartphone in hand, the nextlogical navigation frontier is indoors, where GPS doesn’t work and maps are often nonexistent. Australian startup Navisens says it has a plan to track everyone from firefighters searching through burning buildings to consumers wandering through shopping malls, without requiring any special wireless signals.

Ashod Donikian, Navisens’s founder and CEO (and, for now, its sole employee), says the company’s technology will power a wearable gadget that can track first responders in emergencies; he hopes to start testing it shortly with firefighters in the United States. He also plans to offer his technology later this year to developers who want to add indoor positioning capabilities to smartphone apps or enhance existing navigation capabilities.

Navisens is one of many companies trying to make indoor location tracking possible. Common methods for indoor location tracking include using Wi-Fi hotspots or cell-tower locations, but these aren’t exceptionally accurate and usually depend on existing wireless infrastructure. Some more creative tracking and mapping methods are also in the works.

Navisens uses dead reckoning, meaning current location is calculated from previous location and movement—in the case of the firefighter, the fire truck would serve as a starting point. While this method becomes increasingly inaccurate over time, Donikian says, the algorithms Navisens uses cut down on errors.

“The key here is we know where the person is in the building well enough to send a search party to narrow down and find where they are, and we’re doing this without placing any infrastructure in the building,” he says.

Jim Duckworth, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute whose research includes a first-responder tracking system, likes the idea of a navigation tool that requires no infrastructure or prior knowledge of the building you’re entering, since that makes it well suited for firefighters.

But a number of companies are working on inertial-only tracking, he says, and the ones he’s seen tend to fail. Sensors tend to drift, and tracking firefighters in particular can be difficult because in an emergency they don’t move as you would when walking down the street—they might go up and down staircases or crawl on their hands and knees. “I hope he really tests it out in those kind of conditions,” Duckwoth says.

Donikian says motionDNA takes drift into account. He says the physical device should be able to withstand fire, water, and major impacts and can alert others if you’re motionless for 30 seconds, showing where you are and whether you’re lying on your face or back. He hopes to start selling it for training purposes in the next few months at a cost of $4,000 to $5,000.

Beyond that, though, Donikian hopes to take Navisens to the mobile market, where it could augment existing technologies on phones. For example, it could correct errors that GPS may make outside in dense urban areas and help with Wi-Fi positioning systems indoors.

Source: Technology Review