Earlier today we posted a report titled "Apple Advances Automatic Vehicle Location Services for Parking." It was one of three new location based patent filings revealed today by the US Patent Office. In a third filing today titled "Sensor-Assisted Location Fix," Apple describes location scenarios beyond parking and discusses location-centric problems and solutions associated with driving in urban canyons, which is a powerful image when you think of cities like New York, Hong Kong, Osaka, Beijing, Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago and others that have massive buildings in their downtown business cores.
According to Apple, their invention relates to sensor-assisted location technology. Primary location technologies, such as GPS, can be used to determine the current location (e.g., a location fix) of a location-enabled device. In some instances, the primary location technology may be unreliable and/or consume more power than an alternative location technology.
Sensors, such as accelerometers, compasses, gyrometers, and the like, can be used to supplement and/or increase the accuracy of location data. For example, a location-enabled device can identify an area with unreliable GPS location data and use sensors to calculate a more accurate location.
Areas identified may be crowd-sourced. Sensors can be used to identify errors in the location data provided by primary location technology. Sensors can be used to modify a sampling interval of the primary location technology. Sensors can be used to smooth motion on a user interface between sampling intervals of the primary location technology.
Driving or Walking in Urban Canyons
In one of Apple's more interesting scenarios for sensor-assisted location technology they discuss the problems with walking or driving in an "Urban Canyon." In respect to driving, Urban Canyons can play havoc with Apple's Maps Turn by Turn Navigation. If you're a tourist, you sure want to know exactly where to turn in New York or any other major city where urban canyons exist. Apple dedicates a section of the patent filing to this problem.
For Apple's patent FIG. 4, Apple walks us through the problem of Urban Canyons. Apple notes system 400 includes a road 410, small structures 420, large structures 430, and a vehicle (e.g., vehicle 251) illustrated in various progressive positions (450-456).
A mobile device such as an iPhone may be inside of the vehicle. Although FIG. 4 illustrates a car moving through an area with unreliable location signals, the same concepts could apply to a person in another type of vehicle or a person walking through an urban canyon or similar problematic area where a primary location technology is unreliable.
When the vehicle #450 (shown at the very bottom of the patent figure above), the location of the vehicle (or mobile device in the vehicle) can be determined location using a primary location technology, such as GPS, cellular, WiFi, and/or time of flight location technologies. At position 450, the vehicle and/or mobile device can still receive a reliable location signal from the primary location technology. Everything is fine in position #451 as the vehicle approaches the urban canyon.
Then as the vehicle and/or mobile device moves further into the downtown core the road is met with large high rise which may obstruct one or more location signals. If at position 452, only the primary location technology was used, it is possible that the location data would be inaccurate and may have a high margin of error.
In some embodiments, the precise location of the vehicle and/or mobile device at an area with unreliable location signals can be critical. For example, a right turn or a left turn may be made at the intersection. The primary location technology may not be able to determine reliably whether the vehicle and/or mobile device has turned or continued straight down the road.
In the urban canyon scenario, a more reliable location can be calculated by switching to estimation mode when a problematic area is identified as noted above.
Apple's sensor-assisted location fix patent filing is very detailed as could be expected with such a detailed problem and there's no magic bullet that could capture the entire solution Apple has devised into one neat paragraph. Those wanting to delve into more of the specifics can review Apple's patent filing here.
Apple credits Devrim Varoglu as the sole inventor of this patent application that was originally filed in Q1 2013. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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