If Internet access is now considered an essential in today’s day and age, then GPS (global positioning system), the technology that allows us to navigate through traffic jams or locate a lost iPhone, is not far behind in the “must have” department. But the reality is that GPS connectivity is not always a certainty and companies whose devices depend on tracking technology are increasingly looking for creative ways to deliver what they promise even when the navigational signal is gone.
This problem has become more obvious over the past year with the proliferation of fitness tracking devices and InvenSense, one of the major players in the sensor technology market, recently announced a new tracking platform for smartphone and smartwatch users when the GPS signal is weak or lost.
In an announcement on November 17, InvenSense branded their new technology under the name of Coursa Sports for mobile and wearable application developers.
“The road to sensing everything is fraught with challenges,” said Behrooz Abdi, the CEO of InvenSense, during the company’s conference last week in Santa Clara, California. “But it’s a really exciting time to be in this industry.”
GPS is a satellite-based navigation system that was placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense many decades ago. It was intended for military use, but became publicly available in the 1980’s, just as mobile computing devices were beginning to enter the consumer market.
The solution that InvenSense is offering relies on advanced algorithms that can capture signals from the gyroscope and accelerometer already found in mobile devices to increase the accuracy of fitness data when GPS is no longer present. “Coursa Sports is …designed to help fitness and health application developers provide more accurate and reliable fitness metrics to their customers,” said Eitan Medina, InvenSense’s vice president of marketing.
In October, the company also announced a similar technology solution for car navigation when the GPS signal goes away, as moving automobiles can pose even more of a challenge in places like the urban canyons of Manhattan, tunnels, or parking garages.
InvenSense’s solution comes at a time when some high-profile fitness device makers are struggling with the lost GPS issue. In a recent evaluation of the newly-released Microsoft Band2 wearable, a Softpedia reviewer noted that “getting a GPS signal can take anywhere from 10 seconds to 15 minutes.” For most data-hungry consumers today, anything over 30 seconds is a quick route to frustration.
Another approach to the missing GPS challenge was recently offered by a French company who has teamed with a well-known fashion designer to create “Found You!,” a collection of four tracking devices that can be linked to the smartphone. Wistiki has partnered with Philippe Starck to provide a fashionable line of trackers that can be used with pet collars, wallets, and even stuffed toys.
At Wistiki’s launch event in San Francisco on November 12 to announce the rollout of the new devices, the company founders unveiled technology that will allow tracking in a range of approximately 300 feet. That may be fine for locating items close by, but anything beyond that becomes a challenge.
Wistiki claims they have solved this problem by using a GPS locator app that relies on its community of users. The app records the last time that a user was close to their device-tagged item and then each person who has the Wistiki smartphone app anonymously updates the GPS data of all lost Wistiki around them. Voila, another misplaced item is found.
While these and other technology solutions may or may not take off, there is no denying the importance of a solution in today’s connected world. GPS tracking is becoming a widely used technology for many purposes, and not just for a jog through the woods.
In communities across the country, GPS-equipped tracking devices are being used as part of court-ordered monitoring of criminals released from jail. A news investigation in Washington State found that the devices, known in the law enforcement community as “tethers,” frequently failed because of blind spots and unreliable connectivity.
In Los Angeles, audit results showed that at least a quarter of tethers strapped on serious criminals were faulty. And in Tennessee, more than 80 percent of GPS-triggered alerts were not clear or confirmed when a criminal entered a prohibited area such as a park of school.
The increased dependence on GPS underscores the need for reliability in an area of technology that is not exactly new. With all the rapid advancements we are seeing in the mobile space, it’s surprising that, so far, the cornerstone for location-based technology has not kept pace as well.