Apple is Constantly Improving the iPhone's Geo-Location Technology
Out of some forty Apple patent filings published yesterday, we see that Apple pushed through nine that were related to geo-location and the electronic compass technologies behind it. Apple is constantly improving the iPhone's magnometer and other related sensors to help us now and in the future. Apple introduces us to one application dedicated to improving our road trip experiences with information about facilities and attractions that are "just ahead" of us so that we won't miss a thing. Apple understands that the iPhone will be used on foot, in cars, on bikes and boats, and they're making sure that their geo-location services will work to our benefit. It began last week when we discovered that Apple was working on new interactive radio mapping functionality for the iPhone - and this week we see that their work is once again pushing the envelope. That's what The Crazy Ones do.
Search Filtering based on Expected Future Time & Location
In the first of three patents that we'll highlight in this report, we begin with Apple's patent about search filtering based on expected future time and location factors. Apple's patent describes how a future iPhone's built-in compass will help you discover things that could be of interest to you as you move toward your future destination, be it on foot or on the road. More specifically, the patent covers methods for searching for points of interest and specific locations located in the vicinity of where you're expected to be at a future time.
Your future iPhone could include positioning circuitry combined with a mapping application to provide location-specific information to you. The magnometer could determine the orientation in which the iPhone is facing and provide you with results for points of interest in the facing orientation. So if you're driving on a highway, your iPhone will be able to identify gas stations or restaurants that will be in your path while ignoring any such points that are behind you. While you're travelling, your companion could search for "drinks" for instance, should you wish to go to a bar just prior to attending a concert that you're traveling to.
This patent could theoretically be of great assistance to tourists that are visiting a new city for the first time. As they walk from their hotel to a first sight-seeing location, their iPhone could assist them with other points of interest along the way as they travel. As time goes on, this type of app will be of great benefit, especially if the app allows the user to set parameters as to what kinds of things that interest them and what kinds of food they like. Otherwise, you'll simply be overwhelmed by the suggested locations which will defeat the purpose of the app's value in the first place. I'm sure Apple is working on this and other interesting future twists. For more information on this technology, check out patent 20100305848.
Automatically Identifying Geographic Direction
Apple's second patent of interest of the day concerns the iPhone's ability to automatically identify true north from magnetic north. The direction of magnetic north derived from the sensor readings could be corrected to identify a true north (geographic north) direction. Typically, a user consults a geomagnetic map (e.g., a geomagnetic map provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)) that shows the relationships between magnetic north and true north for a particular geographic area, where other characteristics of the environment, e.g., temperature could be considered substantially constant. In particular, the geomagnetic map could identify the magnitudes of declination at different locations in the geographic area. After identifying the magnitude of declination at a geographic location, a user could correct the magnetic heading using the magnetic variation (declination). Although this technique is effective, it could be very time consuming. In addition, as the user travels with their iPhone, the magnetic variation could change.
Apple's patent is about automatically identifying a geographic direction (e.g., a heading relative to true north). Responsive to a correction trigger event, geographic position data that identifies a geographic position of an iPhone could be obtained. A magnetic declination based on the geographic position data could be obtained. A magnetic heading of the iPhone could be obtained. A geographic direction based on the magnetic heading and the magnetic declination could be identified without user intervention.
These features allow a user to be presented with a geographic direction relative to true north without the user's interaction, thereby reducing a likelihood of user error.
For more information on this technology, check out patent application 20100312519.
Calibration Techniques for an Electronic Compass
In order to provide good accuracy in an electronic compass, Apple's third patent of interest today discusses a 3-axis calibration technique needed to collect a sufficient number of well-distributed measurement points from the magnetic sensor. Such data isn't always available, even for an iPhone which could easily be rotated to generate those measurement points. For example, consider the case where a user is driving a car and has docked their iPhone to the dashboard (See FIG. 3 below). The iPhone (including its compass) in this case remains level, i.e. it hardly tilts much or rotates about the horizontal plane. This means the magnetic sensor doesn't produce the needed measurement points for a typical 3-axis sensor calibration procedure, so that the "transparent" calibration procedure will no longer give an accurate direction reading.
In accordance with an embodiment of the invention, a device like the iPhone having a compass function that uses a three axis magnetic sensor has at least two compass calibrators. Each calibrator computes the geomagnetic field using measurements made by the sensor, based on its interpretation of the offset field. A first calibrator (also referred to as a three dimension, 3D, calibrator) computes its offset field based on a set of magnetic field measurements made by the sensor that define a generally spherical surface. Such sensor measurements are available when the device is undergoing sufficient rotations about the horizontal plane.
A second calibrator (referred to as a two dimension, 2D, calibrator) computes its offset field based on a set of magnetic field measurements (made by the sensor) that define a generally circular path. Such measurements are available when, for example, the device is moving in the horizontal plane but remains essentially level while doing so.
A compass direction output module selects which of the two calibrators to use for providing its direction output. The selection may depend upon how the portable device is being carried by its user. For example, the device may be designed to automatically infer that it has been attached or fixed to the dashboard of a car, such that the 3D calibrator should be set aside in favor of the 2D calibrator. Thereafter, when the device determines that it has returned to a "3D mode of use," responsibility for providing the output direction is entrusted to the 3D calibrator.
The bottom line is that this technology will ensure that the GPS readings on your future iPhone will always be accurate without the need for the user to make adjustments or refinements of any kind. For more information on this technology, check out patent application 20100312509.
The sheer number of patents in this one segment in the last week alone would strongly suggest that this is now considered a technology trend at play at Apple's Labs. Below you'll find six more geo-location related patents to check out if you so choose and you could always find more information on this subject in our "Social" patents archive.
Other Apple Patents Published Yesterday Covering Geo-Location or Electronic Compass
- Patent 20100312510: Dynamic Compass Calibration in a Portable Device
- Patent 20100307015: Accuracy Indications for an Electronic Compass in a Portable device
- Patent 20100307016: Magnetometer Accuracy and Use
- Patent 20100312513: Restoring and Storing Magnetometer Calibration Data
- Patent 20100304730: Space & Time Based Device Customization
- Patent 20100309149: Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Providing Maps, Directions, and Location-Based Information
For additional information on any patent reviewed here today, simply feed the individual patent numbers into this search engine.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for further details. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
Yes, check out our Archives "Patents: NFC" page in the side bar: http://www.patentlyapple.com/patently-apple/tech-nfc/
Posted by: Jack Purcher | December 12, 2010 at 10:05 AM
Is Apple doing anything with NFC smart tags ? The iPhone would read the NFC tag that gives off a location parameter. This would enable micro location on a mass scale.
Posted by: indoor LBS | December 12, 2010 at 09:55 AM