Bringing the Functionality and Convenience of GPS Indoors

Global positioning system (GPS) technology has become so integrated into everyday life that it is taken for granted. Locating nearby restaurants or stores is simple. Driving directions are a snap. But once people enter an indoor space, that convenience suddenly disappears.

Indoor localization is not a new concept, but until now it has been problematic. Installation procedures have been complicated by power needs, the devices themselves have been expensive, or periodic maintenance has been difficult. Together, these obstacles have made indoor localization impractical and costly.

Anthony Rowe and Bruno Sinopoli from Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Electrical and Computer Engineering Department have been leading a team in a PITA-funded effort to collaborate with the Bosch Research and Technology Center in Pittsburgh, PA, to develop technology that can overcome such obstacles. Their collaboration also includes the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where the technology will be tested.

The Acoustic Localization and Positioning System (ALPS), now being deployed in the convention center, is simple to install, as it draws “solar” power from lights instead of requiring wired power sources. It uses a unique, acoustic-based positioning technology that was developed at CMU; installed beacons emit ultrasonic and radio frequency signals that allow devices to figure out where they are inside a space. The software is conveniently cloud-based, and the devices can talk to each other and perform their own maintenance, minimizing long-term costs. Furthermore, the system will work both with mobile phones and tags—physical pieces of hardware that can be affixed to objects. The current version could be public-facing within a year.

There are many drivers for this technology, according to Rowe. At the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, “we’re focusing on improving and optimizing the convention center’s work flow for efficiency,” he said. For example, it can be difficult to keep track of equipment in a large conference center, particularly when staff are setting up for a major event. With this new positioning technology, staff could tag a piece of equipment and instantly pinpoint its location in real time. During an event, finding a particular company’s booth would be simple: “Visitors can open an app and see where they are, see what’s happening around them,” explained Rowe.

The collaboration has offered broad benefits for all the participants. Rowe’s students have the opportunity to see the practical implications of their work. The convention center will have access to valuable data once the system is in operation, such as which areas of the conference floor make up the most valuable “real estate.” Bosch will likely be positioned as the leading provider of indoor positioning technologies, with a service that is not only cost-effective, but accurate and reliable.

“The Bosch Research and Technology Center has collaborated with Carnegie Mellon University on research projects that have led to many groundbreaking technologies,” stated Charles P. Shelton, Ph.D., senior research engineer at the Bosch Research and Technology Center. “The ALPS indoor positioning system has huge potential for making buildings smarter and making occupants more comfortable and productive. We are excited to continue our work with CMU on this technology.”