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Apple Invents Seamless Outdoor to Indoor Map Transitioning

On October 16, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals an invention relating to future iDevices and CarPlay that will be able to use seamless outdoor to indoor map transitioning. The mapping system could start with in-car navigation to a parking lot and then transition to an indoor parking map and eventually further transition to the inside your destination, be it the inside of a mall, a school, a convention center and beyond. In 2013 Apple acquired WifiSLAM and this invention likely borrows some of their technology.


Apple's Patent Background


Many navigation systems are available to help users navigate from one location to another. When using such systems, the destination is typically identified by GPS coordinates. However, most users do not think of locations in terms of GPS coordinates, so additional mechanisms are provided for designating destinations. For example, many systems provide a mechanism that allows users to identify a destination based on the name of the destination (e.g. "Sears"), the category to which the destination belongs (e.g. "Restaurants"), the street address of the destination, cross-streets near the destination, etc. When a user designates a destination in one of these manners, the navigation system typically performs a look-up operation to determine the GPS coordinates of the specified destination. Once the destination's GPS coordinates have been determined, the navigation system helps the user navigate to the destination.


Navigation systems may help users navigate to a selected destination in a variety of ways. One common way to help users navigate to a selected destination is to display a map of the user's current location, along with (a) an indication of the user's current position on the map, and (b) an indication of a route, from the user's current position, to the selected designation. The route indication may indicate the entire route, or a small portion of the route starting from the user's current position.


Typically, as the user moves, the display of a navigation system is updated to reflect the new position of the user relative to the displayed map. To avoid the user's position indicator from leaving the display, the display may be repeatedly updated with new map information. For example, as a user travels north, the displayed map may scroll down so that new map information is revealed at the top of the display, old map information scrolls off the bottom of the display, and the user's current position indicator remains approximately at the center of the display.


Such visual navigation aides are often accompanied by audible aides. For example, in addition to highlighting a suggested route on the displayed map, the navigation system may audibly tell the user when to turn, which direction to turn, the name of the street on which to turn, etc. Sophisticated navigation systems may also indicate things such as the user's speed, the current heading, the current weather at the destination, the current speed limit, traffic conditions along the proposed route, alternative routes, points of interest along the route, etc.


As long as navigation systems are able to receive accurate GPS signals, the systems work remarkably well in navigating users to the GPS coordinates associated with their designated destination. However, things start to break down in situations where GPS signals cannot be reliably received. Unfortunately, GPS signals can rarely be reliably received when something blocks the navigation system from the open sky. Navigation systems are blocked from the open sky in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to dense tree cover, tall buildings, tunnels, covered parking structures, and most indoor environments.


Consequently, within navigation systems, most destinations are associated with GPS coordinates that are outdoors, even though the actual destinations are indoors. For example, the GPS coordinates for a store within a mall may actually correspond to location on the street in front of the mall. Similarly, the GPS coordinates for a covered parking structure may actually correspond to the street entrance to the parking structure, rather than any specific location within the parking structure.


Unfortunately, the outdoor GPS location associated with a destination is often not where the user actually needs to go. For example, a user that wants to visit a particular store in a mall may actually need to first find a parking spot in a covered parking structure near the mall, and then need to find the store within the mall itself. Conventional navigation systems may simply lead such a user to the outdoor GPS location associated with the mall, and then leave the user to fend for themselves in finding a parking spot and the desired store. Often, the tasks of finding a suitable, available parking spot, and then the specific store in question, may involve a lot of wandering, frustration, and wasted time.


This is what Apple's latest invention is to solve.


Apple Invents Seamless Outdoor to Indoor Map Transitioning


Apple's invention relates to mapping systems and techniques for providing seamless transitioning from outdoor mapping to indoor mapping. In one embodiment, the techniques involve detecting a current location of a user's mobile device.


The computing device may be, for example, a mobile device executing navigation software, a navigation system that is built into a vehicle (like CarPlay), a special-purpose mobile GPS device, or any other navigation system.


Based on the current location of the computing device, the display depicts a first map of out-of-doors elements in the vicinity of the current location of computing device. The technique further involves detecting that the current position of the computing device has transitioned to an indoors location. In response to detecting that the current position of the computing device has transitioned to an indoors location, the display depicts a second map of indoors elements in the vicinity of the current location of the computing device. Think of parking outside of a mall and then moving inside the mall and being able to find a directory of the mall that you could navigate so as to find the stores you want to visit.


Detecting that the current position of the computing device has transitioned may involve, for example, detecting that a GPS signal by which the current location of the computing device is determined has become weak or lost, or detecting that the computing device has begun to receive a wireless signal from at least one stationary transmitter.


In one usage scenario, the indoors location is a parking structure, and the second map illustrates individual parking spots within the parking structure. In addition, the second map may actually indicate that a particular parking spot within the parking structure is currently available, and the computing device may communicate directions from the current location to the particular parking spot.


According to another aspect, the techniques involve receiving, at a computing device, input that indicates an intended destination. Rather than simply navigate the user to the outdoor GPS coordinates associated with the destination, a plurality of parking spots, which belong to one or more parking structures at or near the intended destination, are filtered based on one or more characteristics of the parking spots to produce a filtered set of parking spots. The computing device then provides directions from a current location of the computing device to a particular parking spot from the filtered set of parking spots.


Seamless Transition from Outdoor to Indoor Mapping


Apple's patent FIG. 1 is a diagram that illustrates how a navigation system may transition from a map containing outdoors elements to a map with indoors elements. As illustrated in FIG. 1, a navigation system may be used while travelling within a vehicle to a specified destination. In the example illustrated in FIG. 1, the navigation system is operatively coupled to a Bluetooth LE sensor. Until a transition event occurs, the navigation system causes a map #104 showing outdoor elements to be displayed. In the illustrated example, the map is a street map which contains a present location indicator, a destination indicator, and a suggested route from the present location to the destination.




When the vehicle gets close enough to the destination, the navigation system begins to receive a signal from a Bluetooth LE sensor located at the gate of a parking structure #102 associated with the destination.


In response to detecting the signal from the sensor and/or a corresponding drop in the strength of the GPS signal received by the navigation system, the navigation system may automatically transition from map #104 to an indoor map #106 of the parking structure. The indoor map of the parking structure also includes a current location indicator, a destination indicator, and a suggested route indicator.


Apple notes that while the user is within the parking structure, the navigation system may determine the current location based on the signal from the stationary sensor, GPS signals, or both. After the vehicle is parked, the user's mobile device navigation system changes as it enters a mall and provides the user with an internal mall map.


Searching for Indoor Elements Example


Apple further notes that using the techniques described in the invention, it will possible for a user to search for specific indoors elements, such as stores within a mall, seats within a stadium, and parking spots within a parking structure.


Apple's patent FIG. 2 noted below illustrates the situation in which the user of a vehicle may use a navigation system within the vehicle to locate and navigate to a parking spot based on specific criteria.




Depending on the criteria specified, the user may be presented with different possible indoor destinations. For example, if the user searches for a parking spot whose duration can be extended by phone, the user may be presented with parking lot 1. If lot 1 is selected, then the user may be further presented with available parking spots within lot 1, as the user approaches the vicinity of lot 1.


On the other hand, if the selection criteria's preferred/last parked spots, cheapest spots, or compact-only spots, the search results may present lots 2, 3 or 4, respectively. As mentioned above, the search for specific spots may take at various different times. For example, the search may take place when the original destination is selected, when the vehicle comes within a predetermined distance of the destination, or upon occurrence of any other search-triggering event.


Airports, Convention Centers, Classrooms


Beyond parking lots, the techniques may be used in conjunction with airports to help users navigate to the appropriate check-in counter, and then the appropriate gate. Similarly, the techniques may be used to navigate to specific seats in a stadium, exhibits at conventions and trade shows, classrooms in a school or university, etc.


In a report that we posted in August titled "Apple and Google Headed for an Indoor Location Services War," we quoted Don Dodge who is currently an investor in ByteLight while working at Google as a Developer Advocate. He stated that "Three years ago I was at Stanford [University] and I saw these Stanford PhD's doing indoor location. They had a map of the Stanford campus and they showed me walking around the campus. I could actually see where I was in real-time moving. I was stunned! It was unbelievable. So, I'm an Angel investor, I invest in a lot of companies, and I invested in that company. And thirteen months later, it was acquired by Apple." He was referring to WifiSLAM.


Ticket Service & More


Another example that Apple points to is a navigation system that may be configured to interact with a ticketing service. In response to a user purchasing a ticket for an event, the ticketing service may send information about the venue and seat to the navigation system.


When it comes time to travel to the event, the navigation system may have a control that allows the user to simply select the previously-stored event information. In response to selecting the previously-stored event information, the navigation system navigates the user to the venue using an outdoor map, and then seamlessly transitions to an indoor map of the venue and navigates the user to the particular reserved seat.


Patent Credits


Apple credits Devrim Varoglu, Monika Bansal and Swapnil Dave as the inventors of patent application 20140309924 which was filed with USPTO in Q2 2014. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


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