Google Patent Granted on Mobile Location Detection

Google has a lot invested in knowing where you are. The future of search, and many of the services that Google offers is going to rely upon it being accurate, too. It can’t be off by 30 meters, like it might be with cell tower triangulation. It can’t rely upon a GPS system initially built for aircraft with multiple antennas. It needs to be able to work indoors as well as outdoors. Unlike the electronic navigation device below, it also needs to be really small.

An electronical navigation device with a propeller, from a wood engraving between 1880 and 1900, library of Congress.

The purpose behind a Global Positioning System, or GPS, is a satellite-based navigation system helping to overcome problems with previous navigation systems. We know that Google has used GPS in mobile devices to make it possible for a number of location based services to function.

Another approach that Google has used to find someone’s location is cell phone tower triangulation, which looks at the distance between a cell phone and more than one tower to estimate location. GPS doesn’t always work well when someone is near a building, or inside a building, and its use can consume a fair amount of power. Cell Tower signals are also limited in how accurate they might be.

Google’s future relies in part upon Location Based Services, such as:

  1. Google Latitude
  2. Google Now
  3. Google Field Trip
  4. Targeted Advertising
  5. Traffic Time Estimates
  6. Traffic Gridlock Warnings
  7. In car (and walking, and biking) Navigation
  8. Google Goggles visual queries that might identify locations/landmarks
  9. Checking on my location when I tell Google Maps that the place I wanted to visit is closed for business

Mobile devices such as Google Glass, Android phones, and Android tablets, will challenge and likely surpass the use for Google services on a desktop computer.

Google was granted a patent on the use of both GPS and MEMS (Microelectromechanical Systems) sensors from electrical devices such as acceleration detector reading and a gyroscope reading, along with algorithms based upon such readings, to get a much more accurate indication of where someone is located. The cost in terms of electrical consumption is a lot lower, which is a good thing for battery operated devices.

A flowchart from the patent showing that MEMS sensors will influence the measure of a location taken from a GPS device.

The patent provides an extremely detailed look at the formulas for those algorithms, which will do things such as ignore the impact of gravity upon the MEMS sensors.

The patent is:

GPS and MEMS hybrid location-detection architecture
Invented by Qingxuan Yang, Edward Chang, and Guanfeng Li
Assigned to Google
US Patent 8,362,949
Granted January 29, 2013
Filed: June 27, 2011

Abstract

The present application describes a computer-implemented method and system for obtaining position information for a moving mobile device with increased accuracy and reduced power consumption.

The subject of the present application combines information from a GPS location sensor with information from MEMS devices such as an acceleration detector and a gyroscope using statistical analysis techniques such as a Kalman filter to estimate the location of the device with greater accuracy while using numerical methods such as the Newton-Raphson Method to minimize power consumption.

Minimizing power consumption is possible because GPS signals sampled at a lower rate can conserve power, while GPS sampled at a lower rate and working together with MEMS devices can achieve the same level of location prediction accuracy as a GPS alone sampled at a higher rate.

Take Aways

The value of such better measurement by Google can mean:

1) Google will stop trying to get me to check in at a restaurant 2 blocks down the street when I stop at a local bakery.

2) Google won’t give me a map of the auto repair shop, and tell me that it will take less than a minute to drive there, when I’m walking to pick my car up, and the walk is going to take longer.

3) Alerts for historic places will only trigger when I’m actually near them, instead of going off every few seconds when visiting a place like New York City.

It’s easy to say that something like this invention is obvious, especially when patent filings that describe location based services from Google, including Google Glass implementations (indoor mapping, geo-tagging of photos, etc.) mention how such sensors might be used. One of the Google Glass patents also mentions using MEMS sensors to tell whether a wearer is standing still, walking, running, or driving, and changing the user interface of the device based upon the level of activity of the person using Glass.

But if you’ve seen the warning on your phone about how much power it takes to turn GPS on to run something like navigation might involve, the process described in this patent can’t happen fast enough.

It does have me wondering what other kinds of sensors might be built into phones in the future, though. Blood pressure and other health related sensors? Humidity and air pressure sensors to more evenly build models for weather reports? Air filter sensors to detect pollen and pollutants.

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20 thoughts on “Google Patent Granted on Mobile Location Detection”

  1. Another terrific summary Bill, thanks for sharing this. I’m most interested in what happens once we are indoors as well as what happens when we are moving (walking) towards a location, looks like we are heading in the direction where those will both improve.

    I’m looking forward to indoor directions directly to my seat at a concert or football stadium, and in-mall directions to stores I seek.

  2. Thanks Bill for sharing this creepy article. I guess that one day, nobody can hide anymore. Who you are, where you are, who are you with, where are you going to… Everything will be logged…
    The most terrific thing is that everybody seems to agree with that finally.

  3. Thanks for the fantastic breakdown (as always), Bill.

    Can’t help but think that this could eventually become a major part of Google’s advertising plan. A business owner pays Google for my phone to go off when I walk by his business (or appear to be walking to his competitor down the street). Let’s call it PPW (pay-per-walk-by).

    I wonder how long it will be before the first dumb shoplifter is caught because he left his phone on :)

  4. Interesting theory Phil. Made me chuckle haha

    It’s actually very interesting to have had observed the swift change in society’s perception on privacy issues. 20years ago we would’ve had people outraged about tracking their location, these days it feels like humanity has slowly accepted it.

  5. I am not sure how this patent is going to impact numerous LBS products like Waze etc as all of them are using same underlying mechanism for various purposes. I hope not!

    Localization and accuracy are going to be key to the future as consumers want context aware products.

  6. I would be really interested to see how the authorities can use this going forward. In a way it can be a form of tagging if phones can be attributable to an individual. There will be no hiding place!

    The movie “Enemy of the state” comes to mind!

    Never heard of “tower triangulation” – a new term I’m going to add to my vocab

  7. Pay-per-walk is great ;-)
    I also find it frightening how the perception of privacy is changing in the society. There are so many new technologies which improve the tracking of the users. This localisation feature will push local advertisement for sure. I hope it’s not as bad as the local advertisments in the cinema.

  8. Is this an optional feature? Can you turn off tracking like you can on your iPhone? I think this should just be an option if you prefer to utilize it, like personalization of search results when logged in. Otherwise I think this would be a huge violation of privacy, especially with the vulnerabilities of these devices against hackers.

  9. I have a cigar retailer client with whom we’ve discussed the value of some type of IPS integration. By breaking his stores into zones, we would know how many visits to the humidor, which sections of the humidor have the most browsing versus actual purchases, how often a visit to the humidor results in use of the smoking room, how much of the accessories retail space is used, etc. It would appear IPS creates the ability micro-analyze a retail store’s operations and make significant jumps in in-store performance.

  10. This is the change that will make me get rid of my mobile phone. I’ve been waiting an excuse. I don’t like the instant access of smartphones. If they start targeting me in the fashion above I’ll get rid of it. Others will as well.

    Darrly’s point is excellent though. This technology could revolutionise “secret shopper” strategies. People could be paid to live their life and retailers can analyse the stats.

  11. Thanks Bill, Good post. GPS on phones is huge though and there are a lot of new start ups creating APS that will push out data/info to you based on location. Nothing really new there but for example, if you are having a sale at your shop and you sign up, free to start obviously, then you are hooked in. the user will see your sale when you are in the area. It will get pretty spammy but I would say I could be interested in 50% of the information.

    Cheers
    Virginia

  12. Google is at heart a marketing company (at least in my mind; most of their revenue comes from adwords), this will allow them to further personalize results. Google has really perfected marketing segmentation, and this will allow them to do it even better. With their increasing share of the mobile market through the Android platform they will have reason to focus on such enhancements. Your last comment makes me think that Star Trek tricorders are becoming a reality!

  13. Thanks Bill for sharing this article.I would be really interested to see how the authorities can use this going forward. In a way it can be a form of tagging if phones can be attributable to an individual. There will be no hiding place!

  14. Thanks Bill for sharing this informative article. @Phil Love the PPW (pay-per-walk-by) theory. Can see that one happening!

  15. I tend to turn off any location based services. It tends to make you think how much is too much? , I can see some massive benefits from this though sat nav related. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Is this an optional feature? Can you turn off tracking like you can on your iPhone? I think this should just be an option if you prefer to utilize it, like personalization of search results when logged in. Otherwise I think this would be a huge violation of privacy, especially with the vulnerabilities of these devices against hackers.

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