Indoor Nav Goes Hybrid

By George Hsu, president and CEO, PNI Sensor

Chicago O’Hare Airport has 17 different Starbucks. The line at the Starbucks nearest your departure gate is startlingly long – so what’s the quickest way to find another Starbucks? There’s an interactive map of O’Hare Airport, complete with all the Starbucks, but since you’re so caffeine-deprived, you’re having a difficult time reading it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have step-by-step directions to the two closest Starbucks?

Or what if you’re walking around a massive shopping mall and are looking for a particular store that you know is having a sale? Indoor navigation on your smartphone or your smartwatch would allow you to find a particular restaurant or store in real-time, relative to your current location.

Smartphone and wearable designers want to deliver more accurate indoor navigation to consumers, in large part because of demand from carriers and data aggregators (like Google) who will work to develop new revenue streams enabled by indoor navigation.

While some level of indoor navigation exists, at least in some places, current solutions leave much to be desired. Google Maps and GPS-enabled devices and smartphones have enjoyed tremendous adoption and are considered indispensable tools by consumers. However, it has been challenging to deliver the same functionality indoors. GPS has historically been the most prominent positioning technology in the outdoor environment but it cannot provide adequate positioning indoors, with its weak signals unable to penetrate walls effectively. This is a major deficiency since mobile devices and smartphones are typically used inside rather than in outdoor locations.

Furthermore, there is a strong impetus to enable services that empower consumers while also providing commercial monetization opportunities. The ability to acquire accurate, granular indoor location data is poised to open up huge opportunities in a variety of markets such as proximity-based mobile advertising, augmented reality, retail, healthcare and public services.

Wi-Fi triangulation and Bluetooth beacons are existing technologies that are competing to enable indoor navigation. While several competing standards are deployed in a few showcase locations — a handful of airports, shopping malls and exhibition centers — Wi-Fi and Bluetooth beacons are difficult to roll out in a ubiquitous manner because they require:

·         Infrastructure set-up with cooperation from venue owners, and timely updates about the location of each access point/beacon

·         Handset Bluetooth and Wi-Fi that are always on, which rapidly drains power and inconveniences users

Each of these technologies also faces significant challenges in terms of accuracy. Specifically, Wi-Fi location technology is accurate to approximately 5 to 30 meters or more depending on Wi-Fi signal attenuation, which varies in the presence of people and objects and the location of the Wi-Fi access point. In order to achieve an approximate 5m level accuracy, the precise location of each access point must be known, and a fingerprint database developed. Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are able to achieve at best 10 meters accuracy from LTE diverse location determination and delivery capabilities. In a perfect implementation, Nokia’s High Accuracy Indoor Positioning (HAIP) Bluetooth can be accurate to about 0.5m – 1m, but will require substantial modification to current Bluetooth 4.0 chips and significant investment in Bluetooth beacons.

While ~10 meter accuracy is sufficient for basic store-level location tracking, the market will ultimately demand sub-1m accuracy where one can identify if a consumer is at a specific position, such as in front of a particular display or aisle. Hence to date, rapid rollout of value-added indoor services has been inaccurate, delayed and spotty. Consequently, both new use cases and uptake by consumers has been slow.

Given the limitations of existing solutions, what type of approach could produce the highest-accuracy indoor navigation today?

Wi-Fi, cellular and pedestrian dead reckoning (PDR) using MEMS motion sensors in mobile devices (namely sensor fusion of gyroscopes, accelerometers and magnetic sensors) comprise a hybrid approach. In fact, ABI Research projects that by 2014, hybrid solutions (with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and sensor fusion) will have already surpassed standalone indoor location technologies on smartphones, with Wi-Fi and sensor fusion hybrid solutions reaching over 900 million units in 2018. Accurate, low-power sensor fusion (including key algorithms for PDR) are essential to implementing this hybrid indoor navigation approach.

PNI Sensor has developed the PDR portion of the hybrid solution. Its sensor fusion technology combines data from multiple sensors intelligently, correcting for the deficiencies of those individual sensors in order to track position accurately (down to 1m), either with or without the presence of infrastructure or other complementary positioning technologies.

With PNI’s solution embedded as a motion coprocessor in your cell phone, getting straight to that latte is a lot closer than you think.

Check out our video for more information:

Visit us at 2015 CES:

Please visit PNI in the MIG booth at the 2015 International CES. You’ll find us in Tech West, Sands Expo, Level 2, Booth 72032 (January 6-9, 2015 during 2015 CES exhibition hours).

Musical MEMS?

Written by: Stephen Whalley, Chief Strategy Officer, MEMS Industry Group

I had the pleasure of attending the 8th Annual Body Computing Conference on October 3rd 2014.  This was the second year I have attended, and once again it did not disappoint.  In one jam-packed day, this conference spearheaded by Dr. Leslie Saxon, Executive Director USC Center For Body Computing, brought together digital health rock stars of innovation from startups to the traditional establishments, investors, academics, athletes, and the general healthcare and technology supply chain.  While I could point out a number of interesting new devices, software, APPs and services that were announced at the conference, I’d like to give a brief mention of just one.

SingFit is a musical therapy mobile app.  It’s actually a bit of a stretch to mention it at all as it uses little to no MEMS technology.  I highlight it though as it won the Body Computing and Skullcandy SLAM contest.  The win highlights a growing trend in using music as a way to help patients comply with their therapies.  It is also fun and shows great results.  Rachel Francine and Andy Tubman developed and created the SingFit app to find new solutions for everything from autism and depression to chronic pain and Parkinson’s disease, by using the world’s oldest medicine, music, in a 21st century fashion. SingFit digitizes the evidence-based music therapy technique of lyric prompting, which enables practically everyone, including those with dementia, autism and traumatic brain injuries to sing on a regular basis in order to achieve therapeutic goals.  The videos that Andy showed at the event were truly inspiring.  They motivated me to think about what could be done if more MEMS and sensors were used in this way.

The Body Computing Conference topics and general industry landscape point to MEMS/sensors being front and center of the mobile health and handheld/wearable device discussion. During the conference, various speakers mentioned the current and future use and impact of MEMS/sensors throughout the day.

While there have been tremendous advancements in MEMS over the past two decades to meet the demanding needs of high-volume automotive and consumer electronics, we are still in our relative infancy when it comes to small form factor, low-power, low-cost mobile biosensors being applied in wellness and medical applications to deliver an easy-to-use consumer experience.  As one analyst and panel discussion pointed out, the future is not wearable…it’s invisible.  Is the MEMS/sensor industry capable of delivering on this future anytime soon?  When will implantable sensors, skin tattoo sensors and sensor-based clothing actually be a reality for the masses?  Lots more work to do here whether you believe it’s upon us already or will happen for the next generation.

The ‘more work to do’ aspect has got to involve closer cooperation between the healthcare industry and MEMS/sensor technologists.  While Dr. Saxon ‘s work and conference are a bright spot in bringing technological innovation into healthcare settings, and AliveCor is a notable success story here, we are just scratching the surface of the opportunity and the challenges still to come.

The good news is that many individuals, companies and industry bodies are coming together to discuss and debate the issues.  We need to move quickly to not just observe these challenges but to join and co-create the future of digital health.   MEMS Industry Group has formed a healthcare working group to focus on what we can do to better serve not only the needs of our members and industry but to see how we can better serve the needs of the healthcare industry and our co-creation partners there.  There will be a panel and topic table session on this at the upcoming MEMS Executive Congress US 2014, November 5-7, Scottsdale, AZ.  Come sing, dance and co-create with us!

See you at CES!

MIG looks forward to advancing MEMS across global markets at next week’s 2012 International CES®.  It’s not too late to make your plans to attend!
MEMS TechZone

LVCC, South Hall 2, Booth #25218
January 10 – 13, 2012

Stop by the booth to register to win MOD Live from Recon Instruments (winner of the 2011 MEMS Technology Showcase at MEMS Executive Congress®) and see the VGo Robotic Telepresence (enabled by MEMS developed by Freescale Semiconductor.)

Recon Instruments VGo

MEMS Conference Session

Connecting the Real World with the Digital World: Harnessing the Power of MEMS
LVCC, North Hall, Room N254
January 11, 2012 | 10:30-11:30am
Spread the word to your colleagues and customers to attend this much anticipated session. In this session, you’ll earn how MEMS is truly driving the adoption of new consumer applications and products.

TechZone Participants and Sponsors


Complimentary MIG Networking Breakfast

Sponsored by 


Conference Room 7, Second Floor, Las Vegas Hilton
January 11, 2012 | 7:00-9:00 am

Join press and members of MIG for a complimentary continental breakfast and networking time. (RSVP required)

MEMS at 2012 CES® PressroomIf you can’t make it to the show, be sure to check out the latest press releases related to MEMS at 2012 CES® in our online press room.  MIG members, if you are attending the show and have a press release, make sure to send it to Kacey Wherley at for inclusion.

See you in Las Vegas!