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A New Apple iBeacon Indoor Mapping Patent sheds more light on Future Location Services within Buildings


Last April we posted a report titled "When it comes to iBeacon Readiness, iOS-7 iDevices Score 87% vs. Android Devices at a Paltry 2.5%," followed by a report in May titled "A Brief Overview of iBeacon Technology that could also be used in Future Home Automation" which also covered businesses. Both reports provided basic overviews of Apple's iBeacon technology along with graphics illustrating indoor mapping. Today the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals some of their intellectual property on the subject of indoor mapping using beacon technology. Apple's patent generally relates to techniques for monitoring device locations within buildings and enhancing user services with indoor traffic information. Finding your friends or kids in a mall, or a colleague at a crowed trade-show could be a new service that we could look forward to on our iDevices in the future.


Apple's Patent Background


Mobile devices offer many different types of services to assist a user in managing the user's schedule. For example, mobile devices provide calendars and alerts to help the user keep track of meetings, appointments, and errands that the user must attend. Often, the meetings, appointments, errands, etc. involve a business that provides goods or services to the user. For example, a user may shop for groceries at a grocery store. The user may travel using an airline or bus service that operates out of an airport or a bus station. The amount of time that a user spends running an errand can depend on the amount of traffic (e.g., other customers) encountered at a business or building associated with the business. The user can avoid wasting time when visiting a business if the user can avoid high traffic periods of the day at the business.


Apple Invents Indoor Location Mapping System


Apple's patent generally relates to techniques for monitoring device locations within buildings.


In some implementations, a mobile device can collect location, time and speed information associated with a building. The mobile device can transmit the location, time and speed information to a server. The server can collect location, time and speed information from multiple mobile devices. The server can determine average wait times (e.g., indoor traffic information) associated with areas of interest at a business or indoor location. The server can deliver the average wait times to mobile devices. The mobile devices can use the indoor traffic information to adjust reminders, calendar events, suggest the best times to visit a business or suggest which of several businesses to visit.


Particular implementations provide at least the following advantages: Users are better able to manage time when the user is able to predict how much time will be spent inside a business location. Users can be provided with indoor traffic forecasts that predict the amount of traffic or the wait times experienced by users at a business. The users can use the forecasts to determine the best time to visit the business.


In some implementations, the indoor traffic information can be compared to known locations of interest. For example, a location of interest can be a checkout register at a store, a service counter at a business, a security checkpoint at the airport, an entry to or exit from a building or any other location that may create a bottle neck or slowdown when users or customers are moving through a business. For example, the indoor traffic information can be used to determine when and where queues form within the building and how long it takes a mobile device to move through the queue. The locations of interest can be determined dynamically based on indoor traffic data collected from mobile devices. The locations of interest can be determined based on predefined indoor map data associated with buildings or businesses.


In some implementations, indoor traffic information can be used to make a recommendation for when to visit a business. For example, a user can speak a request "when should I go to Costco today?" or the user can request "when should I go to Costco this week?" In response to the request, the mobile device can analyze the indoor traffic information for the local Costco and determine the best time of day or day of the week to go to Costco to avoid waiting in long lines. For example, the mobile device can respond by indicating, by speech or graphical display, the best time or times to go to the local Costco on the current day or in the current week.


A Building Configured for Tracking the Indoor Location of a Mobile Device


Apple's patent FIG. 1 noted below illustrates a building #100 that has been configured for tracking the indoor location of a mobile device. For example, building can correspond to a grocery store, a departments store, an airport, a bus terminal or any other location or building. In some implementations, building can be configured with wireless transmitters (e.g., black dots, item #102).


The wireless transmitters can be Wi-Fi transmitters, Bluetooth beacons (e.g., Bluetooth LE, iBeacons), radio frequency identification tags, or other wireless transmission devices. The wireless transmitters can wirelessly transmit a signal to mobile device #104. For example, the wireless signals can include identification information that identifies the wireless transmitter that transmitted the signal. The wireless signal can include timing information that indicates when the received signal was transmitted.



In some implementations, the mobile device can collect the wireless signals from multiple transmitters in the building and use the identification information, timing information and the received signal strength to determine the location of the mobile device. For example, the mobile device can store wireless transmitter location information that identifies the locations of wireless transmitters within the building. The mobile device can compare the wireless transmitter identification information received in the wireless signals to the wireless transmitter location information stored at the mobile device to determine the locations of the wireless transmitters associated with the received signals. The mobile device can then use the wireless transmitter location information, received signal strength and/or timing information to determine the location of the mobile device within the building. For example, the mobile device can use well known triangulation, trilateration, location averaging or other location estimation techniques to estimate the location of the mobile device based on the received wireless signals.


An Indoor Traffic Info GUI



Apple's patent FIG. 4 noted above illustrates an example graphical user interface #400 for presenting indoor traffic information for a building to a user.


For example, the user can provide input to the mobile device indicating a business, building or address and the mobile device can respond by displaying the graphical user interface. In some implementations, the graphical user interface can present a representation (e.g., a map) of the inside of a building.


For example, the building can be an airport, bus station, grocery store, department store or any other type of building. Graphical user interface can include indicia of the indoor traffic in the building. For example, the graphical user interface can include lines, colors, arrows, shaded or colored regions that indicate the amount of traffic in the building. For example, the graphical user interface includes lines 402-404 indicating areas in the store where users or customers might be required to wait in line. The areas can be predetermined and specified in map data associated with the building. The areas can be determined dynamically based on indoor location information reported by mobile devices that indicates mobile devices loiter or move slowly through these areas. The lines can be varying colors depending on the traffic status they represent in real time.


Location Database Tables Example



Apple's patent FIG. 3 noted above illustrates example database tables #300 that can be used to store indoor location information for buildings. For example, a database can include a building locations table #302 that stores a mapping between GNSS locations and buildings.


For example, when mobile device reports its GNSS derived location to a server it can compare the GNSS location to the GNSS locations in table #302 to determine which building a particular mobile device is currently in.


The location table entry in table #304 can point to a device location table #306 that stores associations between timestamps, reported indoor location and speed information for a particular mobile device. Thus, when the server receives location information from a mobile device, (e.g. GNSS location, indoor location, speed, timestamp, anonymous identifier), the server can identify building traffic table based on the GNSS derived location of the mobile device, identify a device location table based on the anonymous identifier, and store the timestamp, indoor location and speed information in the device location table.


Being able to track a family member, friend, colleague within a building so that you know where your party is could be useful. But such technology could help others track you which you might find disturbing. It'll be interesting to see how Apple intends to build-in privacy and security features so that this indoor mapping feature can be trusted.


And lastly, when generally describing an iPhone in context with this future feature, Apple includes a few new features like voice authentication, voiceprinting, facial recognition and the use of a stylus. Whether any of these noted features will come to market is unknown at this time.


To find more details about Apple's indoor mapping invention, see patent application number 20150038171. Another major patent application on this subject matter worth noting was covered in our October 2014 report titled "Apple Invents Seamless Outdoor to Indoor Map Transitioning."


Patent Credits


Apple credits Loan Vlad Uilecan and Sarin Mehta as the inventors of this patent application which was originally filed in Q3 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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