“Indoor GPS” may soon be a reality for many smartphone owners

Broadcom IPS Chip

As announced by Broadcom recently, the company has released a new chip designed for smartphones that may advance the adoption of indoor positioning technology more rapidly. The new chip can use data that’s being recorded by a smartphone’s accelerometer, gyroscope, compass or altimeter and incorporate that information into indoor positioning applications. Assuming the smartphone registers a starting point through GPS, the chip would be able to record when someone walks up and down stairs with the altimeter, the direction a person walks with the gyroscope and the distance a person travels with the accelerometer.

smartphone in mallApplying this to a real world situation, the person could walk into a shopping mall and follow a route to a particular store without having to continually rely on a GPS connection. While the Broadcom chip also supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and cellular signals, it wouldn’t necessarily need to rely on them to provide an accurate location. 

Prior to the release of the Broadcom chip, companies like Google and Nokia have been attempting to solve indoor positioning as well. Google has introduced 2D maps for Android that map out areas like shopping malls and airports while using the known positions of public Wi-Fi hotspots to triangulate user location. Nokia is using 3D models instead of 2D and relying on Bluetooth communication to determine position, assuming Bluetooth hardware is installed in a public area.

While there’s currently no standardization due to the relative infancy of the technology, the Broadcom chip is potentially a giant leap forward in making indoor positioning technology as common as GPS technology. While retailers could hypothetically build applications that feed a smartphone owner coupons when walking by a specific store, the information being collected and interpreted by the Broadcom chip can remain completely isolated to the user’s smartphone. In other words, a retailer wouldn’t have to track your position in a store. They would only trigger notifications in certain areas if the application is running while the user attempts to navigate the building.

Mall of America MapHowever, the information could be transmitted back to the retailer via Wi-Fi or a cellular signal if the application is designed that way. It’s possible that a retailer could only provide special offers or coupons if the user agrees that their travel patterns throughout a store can by tracked, stored and analyzed by the retailer. More complex applications could allow the user to create a shopping list prior to entering a store and follow the quickest path dictated by the application to find all items on the list.

This technology could also spawn an entirely new generation of tracking applications that would locate a friend or family member down to a few feet away. For instance, a family that enters the enormous Mall of America in Minnesota could launch a mall-branded application that creates a private social network between all smartphones owned by family members, perhaps utilizing something as simple as NFC technology to quickly link the phones. At any time, a family member could check the location of other family members down to a few steps of where they are shopping.