CES dispatches: Using motion sensors to find your way to Macy's

Many of us have gotten used to using our smartphones to navigate in our cars or to figure out how to walk from one building to another in a big city.

But the technology used by smartphones to offer directions has a tough time indoors. GPS satellites often can’t be seen inside and WiFi radios, which also are used to find people’s locations, are much more spotty in their coverage and much less precise.

But one company I met with at the Consumer Electronics Show is developing an interesting solution to this problem.

France-based Movea specializes in working with motion detectors such as gyroscopes, accelerometers and magnetometers. The company has worked with tennis racquet maker Babolet to develop a racquet that can sense — through a built-in motion sensor — how players are swinging their racquet and hitting balls. The company has also developed software that captures full body motion from a system of 15 motion sensors attached to various points on a person’s body.

Now the company is applying that expertise to the problem of indoor navigation. The company uses the motion sensors that are now commonplace in most smartphones and tablets to determine a person’s position indoors using dead reckoning.

Using a prototype app, Dave Rothenberg, Movea’s director of marketing, showed how the device can start from a known location, like a hotel lobby, and help a user navigate through a hallway, up an elevator and on to another floor, plotting users’ movements on a map.

The system detects users steps, estimates their stride length and taps into the magnetometers to get users’ compass direction. If there’s a pressure sensor present, such as on some newer Android-based phones, the system can estimate the floor of a building a person happens to be on.

The system worked fairly well in our demo, navigating us to within 10 feet of our destination without using the typical location sensors in the phone. Rothenberg said the demo was put together immediately before CES, so it’s still pretty rough.

And he said it will take improvements in sensors before it’s ready for prime time. Right now the gyroscopes that are typically in smartphones can be thrown off by sudden movements.  Better sensors that would allow more accurate indoor navigation from dead reckoning should be available within a couple years he said.

But it was an interesting exploration of how you could use essentially the same technology used in Nintendo’s Wii Remotes to get around the mall.

 

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (274 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.