The indoor location market is heating up nicely, as various players in the mobile industry start to contemplate the marketing potential of mapping the places where GPS doesn’t help. But it’s still a young market, with room for new entrants with bright ideas.
The Austrian startup indoo.rs, which has just picked up an undisclosed high six-figure seed round, may be one such company. Very much a technology rather than marketing firm, indoo.rs is developing a platform that it hopes will be picked up by silicon vendors and handset manufacturers. Apart from locating the user based on nearby Wi-Fi and cellular signals – as Google does, for instance — the indoo.rs platform also draws on other data sources such as the handset’s accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer and compass to improve accuracy.
If that reminds you of what Qualcomm is trying to do with its IZat platform, you’re right to pick up on the similarity, only Qualcomm is hardwiring its technology into its mobile processors. Indoo.rs is taking the software angle.
Indoo.rs business development chief Marcel van der Heijden — who joined the team from investors SpeedInvest (the other backers are tecnet equity and Techinvest) — freely admitted to me that the IZat hardware approach has its advantages, particularly in terms of speed and power efficiency. However, he suggested that the software angle provided hardware independence and greater release flexibility.
What’s more, he pointed out, IZat is supported by around 12 percent of today’s Android devices, while indoo.rs’s software development kit (SDK) can target 95 percent.
So what are we looking at here, anyway? Indoo.rs’s platform has three elements. The first is a client SDK for Android devices, allowing developers to build indoor navigation capabilities into their apps – a conference organizer might use this in their show-floor app, for example.
The second is a measurement tool, for Windows and Linux, that makes it possible to import maps of a venue, annotate the map with physical features such as walls and staircases, define zones and then measure Wi-Fi “fingerprints” throughout the location. The final piece is the cloud-based back-end, which matches the user’s surroundings with a predefined map.
The hard work here is in balancing all the variables that go into accurate positioning: not only the quality of the Wi-Fi and cellular networks that are involved, but also the quality of the sensors in the handset. If indoo.rs is to succeed, it will need to produce superior algorithms.
Whether that happens remains to be seen. Qualcomm may have a lot of heft behind it, but indoo.rs isn’t going up against Qualcomm as such – indeed, it would probably quite like to gain it as a customer for its IP. In the meantime, the Austrian startup is busy joining the ARM Connected Community and, soon, the In-Location Alliance, so it’s connecting with the right people.
This story was updated at 1:30pm to correct the spelling of indoo.rs’s name.